Enablers of Human Resources Development: Implications Towards Regional Mobility Across ASEAN and Australia

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2022, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to innovation and investment, digital economy, and regional mobility.

In ASEAN and Australia, regional mobility, or the movement of people physically and geographically, remains a challenge as work visas are rarely granted and many talented people are held back by financial constraints, preventing the region from achieving its growth potential. To ensure the realisation of societal and economic outcomes, we must allow talents to be present at the right place, at the right time, and support them to enter the field of their expertise at the appropriate level, in the region most in need of this skill set. This can be achieved through the sophistication of the relevant legal and policy instruments, and through technology, such as internet-enabled virtual working environments that allow talents to contribute to multiple outcomes remotely.

Policies, particularly work visa and taxation policies, must change accordingly to allow ASEAN and Australia to gain the advantage in this new playing field early on. The future will no longer see countries able to cling to talents and squeeze them dry, as regional mobility of talent (RMT) will see talents co-owned, not ‘snatched’ away. Talents will live in one country while working remotely for several. While we have  yet to see global research on the advantages of RMT, the 35 regions around the world that have introduced Global Talent visas indicate that this is becoming an increasing priority. ASEAN and Australia will therefore need to focus on the issue from a regional level and identify key barriers to the free movement of talents within this sphere.

A significant uneven distribution of talent can be observed within the region, and is hamstringing all parties from reaching their full potential. The cause of this goes beyond a mere issue of supply and demand, and is rooted much deeper in the cultural and racial discrimination. 

Australia can appear to be an attractive migration hotspot to many ASEAN citizens, as a country that is considered the most successful multicultural society in the world, according to the Department of Social Services. It is reasonable to have high expectations surrounding our ability not only to attract talents, but also to integrate them into our workforce in a way that maximises their skills. Yet the ‘bamboo ceiling’ continues to be an undisputable barrier for effective regional talent distribution and utilisation, with 90% of those in top managerial roles in Australian organisations remaining white

For example, although many ASEAN country residents have achieved a sufficient level of fluency in English, to be well conversed in Australia would at times require unnecessarily localised English subtlety that is not assessed in major English proficiency exams. Successful interview candidates are frequently those who fit into the organisational culture (such as using Australian humour and forms of expression rather than internationally accepted forms of English). This causes a unique problem where many talents come to study in Australia through talent visas, yet fail to find work in the field and at the level of their expertise. 

This problem is especially concerning as it does not occur in the reverse, with candidates of Australian background in many cases having no requirement to fit into or achieve fluency in the language of an ASEAN country they seek employment in. Instead, they are often able to fill a position even when a more qualified local candidate is present.

To address these problems, ASEAN and Australian governments should provide the following three  policy initiatives:

First, for ASEAN countries to give Australian companies import and export subsidies based on how many employees from their countries are being hired into the company – for example, a company with more than 10 employees from a country can get a 2% discount on import costs.

Secondly, the development of policy and legal instruments on the following items: i) Determining local work conditions and ensuring employees are protected – for example, foreign employees working for Singapore must not work more than nine hours a day; ii) and a Regional consensus on remote work and protection of company rights – for example, a foreign employee contract that is legally binding in the region.

Finally, ASEAN and Australian governments may greatly benefit from jointly creating a trainee program where regional students (Y10 – University) can do part-time remote work for companies across the region, where tax incentives are given based on the number of students they hire. Company names should be listed according to subject stream, and the work given to students should be actual business or research tasks.

Ultimately, RMT is the end goal. Were this to be achieved, talent would flow freely to the most appropriate, most in-need sector, youth would gain vast exposure and experience rapid growth through shifting through, or working simultaneously in, a range of workplaces and cultures. In this future, nationality, visa possession and economic status would no longer limit talented youth in the integrated economic region across ASEAN and Australia.

This article was written by Jasmine Hayter, edited by the Diplomacy Team, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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