The enactment of Republic Act 10912 otherwise known as the Continuing Professional Development Act of 2016 is an imperative by the government to institute measures that will continuously improve the competence of professionals in accordance with international standards of practice. While the primary reason for the passage of the law is to adhere to the Philippine’s commitment under the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement, it touches a very important issue arising from the Filipino diaspora in the global labor market: the recognition and reciprocity relating to professional qualifications.
Based on the 2015 Commission of Filipinos Overseas Statistics on Philippine International Migration, close to 40 percent of the over two million Filipino Emigrants are professionals or technical workers prior to migration. On top of the above numbers, there are about 9,839 employment-based Filipino immigrant visa holders, or those who left the Philippines for skilled-migration but are qualified to stay long-term or permanently in their host countries.
The top recipients of the above Filipino professionals are the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Germany and the United Kingdom.
As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the government of the Philippines is permitted to initiate negotiations for the mutual development and recognition of Filipino professional qualifications with another WTO member state under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
The Republic has proven that forging a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with its ASEAN neighbors is not an impossible dream. Thus, the time may be ripe to strategically ease the barriers to the supply of professional services to the rest of the world, where Filipino talents thrive. The provoking thought is not to encourage brain drain, but to recognize the realities of economic integration, globalization of trade and the trends in talent mobility, diversity and inclusion. Lack of proactive action plan on the part of government puts a significant segment of the long recognized contributors to Philippines’s economic resilience at a disadvantage.
While GATS may apply to other contracting state parties and professional services, let us examine an example which can illuminate the issue of recognition and reciprocity in relation to professional qualifications – Canada (the host country) and the Accountancy profession.
The facts and context
According to Canada’s 2011 data on immigration, there are 662,600 people of Philippine origin residing in Canada during that time and Philippines was its top source country for permanent residents in 2015, dwarfing approximately 15,000 Canadians residing in the Philippines.
Skilled immigration in Canada uses education, skilled work experience and language proficiency as selection factors. This goes to show that candidates possess transferable skills/qualifications based on the host country’s standards. However, as early as 2006, Statistics Canada revealed that immigrants who studied for a regulated occupation outside Canada were less likely to be working in that occupation compared to both immigrants who studied in Canada and those who were born in Canada.
In a nut shell, there is an existing and recognized disadvantage for migrants who are educated outside their host country where local equivalency of qualifications is not achieved or difficult to achieve.
What is preventing the Philippine government from negotiating MRAs, to the extent that skilled Filipino professionals do not begin at ground zero?
Labor movement based on qualifications will work in favor of the Philippines with ongoing structural reforms in education (introduction of K-12) and professional competence (continuing professional development and negotiation of MRAs).
In the case of the accountancy profession, the Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) Canada has signed membership recognition agreements with international accounting bodies that allow Canadian CPAs to apply for membership in those bodies and permit their members to apply for the Canadian CPA designation. These countries include the USA, Australia and New Zealand, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa. The effect is immediate in terms of employment opportunities.
Considering that the Philippines adheres to the same basic international financial reporting standards and fundamental principles, would it not be equitable to seek a pathway that would permit Filipino CPAs get through the process of professional qualification recognition in a less costly and more efficient fashion?
Even with an enabling foreign reciprocity provision in Republic Act 9298 or the Philippine Accountancy Act of 2004, not much progress has been achieved outside ASEAN.
It is interesting to know that in the bilateral Agreement Between Canada and Philippines for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments (E101525 – CTS 1996 No. 46), it was the RP which made a reservation on reciprocity for services involving the practice of licensed profession.
Admittedly, there are complex issues involved both in the recognition of the equivalence and the authority to grant qualification; BUT it is not an impossible task and must be studied more carefully rather than be left without a strategic policy direction. The home country, with underdeveloped opportunities for its highly skilled and growing workforce needs only to create pathways that support a sustainable economic reality.
Again, if this was made possible under the auspices of the regional ASEAN integration, then there is no reason why Philippine authorities cannot take similar proactive steps to exhaust remedies available under GATS.
The obstacles faced by the millions of Filipinos in the international labor market are realities which have to be addressed, given the economic model the Philippines has adopted for over three decades and the benefits that accrue to it.
This phenomenal increase in the number of Filipino professionals overseas is an agenda both government and private stakeholders (including accredited professional organizations by the Professional Regulatory Commission) should be seriously working on.
While we hear success stories about migrant professionals who are able to hurdle the usually long and expensive process of qualification recognition, there are also many untold stories of professionals who were unable to pursue their field because of these barriers.
In this disruptive world, professionals need to be competent and agile. Thus, the political will of the government should put its money where its mouth is by enabling skilled Filipinos on all fronts.