How Skilled Labour Migration from Asia is Shaping the World
As the world has become more interconnected and globalised, skilled labour migration has become increasingly important in addressing challenges such as aging workforces, skill shortages and global competition. Although Asia has historically been a major destination for skilled migrants, it has now emerged as a supplier to transnational skilled labour markets. In fact, nearly one-third of highly skilled migrants in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are from Asia. Consequently, post-industrial countries like Australia have adopted policies to attract and retain skilled migrants as a solution to address perceived skill shortages.
However, despite policies aimed at attracting skilled migrants, the post-migration phase presents challenges for these individuals, including under-utilisation of skills and limited occupational mobility, particularly in OECD countries. These challenges are even more significant for disadvantaged groups such as women and racial-ethnic minorities from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESBs). This raises important questions: how are skilled migrants’ skills defined, regulated and utilised? Why do Asian NESB skilled migrants face employment disadvantages in host countries? Answering these questions is critical in understanding the complex factors affecting skilled migrant employment and moving towards a more equitable, diverse and inclusive society.
The ‘Multilateral Contextual Gaps’: An Analytical Tool for Understanding Skill Under–Utilisation Among Asian NESB Skilled Migrants
Traditionally, research into post-migration employment issues of skilled migrants has relied heavily on human capital theory, which assumes that differences in labour market outcomes can be attributed to measurable individual traits, such as language proficiency, educational credentials and work experience. However, this perspective has been challenged by migration scholars, including Liu-Farrer et al., who argue that the conventional human capital theory overlooks skilled migrants’ transnational orientations and the complex interplay of contextual factors.
My research on Japanese independent professionals in Australia, who are an under-researched group of Asian NESB skilled migrants, contributes to the ongoing debate of understanding the intricate elements that impact skilled migrant employment. In this article, I investigate the impact of the host country’s human capital-based approach to skills on the post-migration employment outcomes of Asian NESB skilled migrants. One significant finding of my study is the presence of what I call ‘Multilateral Contextual Gaps’ (MCGs), which go beyond traditional bilateral conditions that have been previously explored by migration scholars. This framework is particularly useful in comprehending the complex nature of skilled migrant movements, which have grown increasingly multilateral. By shedding light on MCGs, my research contributes to a better understanding of the obstacles faced by some skilled migrants in transferring their skills across multiple countries, which can ultimately limit their capacity to secure comparable professional work in the host labour markets.
This research challenges the conventional view of human capital theory, which assumes that labour market outcomes for skilled migrants are primarily determined by individual traits, such as language proficiency, educational credentials and work experience. Instead, I propose a social constructivist perspective that recognises the role of contextual factors in shaping skilled migrants’ employment experiences. The study highlights the impact of MCGs on the post-migration employment of Asian NESB skilled migrants, despite having English language skills, qualifications and work experience. These findings underscore the importance of addressing contextual gaps to promote diversity, foster inclusivity and remove barriers to equity.
Identifying Challenges and Solutions: Japanese Independent Professionals in Australia
My research investigates how MCGs create significant barriers to skills transfer for a relatively understudied group of Asian NESB skilled migrants: Japanese independent professional in Australia. These professionals are university-educated and migrated to Australia independently, without employment sponsorship. Their backgrounds vary, with some migrating directly to Australia after completing tertiary education in Japan, while others had worked in Japan, the United States, China or elsewhere before migrating to Australia. Despite their diverse backgrounds, my interviews reveal that all of them encounter obstacles in transferring their skills to the Australian labour market due to the presence of MCGs.
One of the significant MCGs identified in my research pertains to Australia’s skill regimes, including the immigration system, occupational testing, verification, and employment practices, which rely on human capital and market-driven approaches. My study found that these regimes impede the transnationality of skills (re)construction and do not support them in building their skills and careers across different countries.
Skilled migrants have agency in navigating regulatory skills regimes and can use their expertise and prior experience to negotiate restrictive schemes in order to improve their employment prospects. However, the study highlights that many participants tend to conform to the host country’s regulatory skills regimes without actively negotiating or seeking support, opting for conventional pathways, such as re-education and re-qualification, instead of challenging the existing framework.
To overcome the obstacles encountered by the Asian NESB skilled migrants, it is crucial to offer the necessary assistance to help them achieve their professional goals. The participants in the study highlighted several areas that require support, including: (1) the development of a dedicated online job-matching platform for Japanese skilled workers; (2) affordable professional consulting services to assist with navigating the host country’s regulatory skills regimes; (3) a system for recognising qualifications bilaterally and multilaterally to facilitate skills transfer across multiple countries; and (4) on-the-job opportunities to acquire additional skills and gain local work experience. By providing support in these areas, skilled migrants facing difficulties can mitigate the impact of MCGs and enhance their employment prospects in the host country.
Towards a More Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive Workforce: The Contribution of Asian NESB Skilled Migrants
In conclusion, this study proposes several policy recommendations to assist disadvantaged skilled migrants in overcoming MCGs and utilising their skills in Australia. These recommendations include expanding mutual recognition agreements for foreign credentials with more countries, providing easily accessible and comprehensive information on skill recognition for potential offshore migrants, increasing funding for bridging programs and involving external bodies more in recognising overseas qualifications and education. By implementing these recommendations, Australia can advance its economic recovery post-pandemic and establish itself as a more attractive destination for skilled migrants from Asia and beyond.
Featured image author: aotaro, licensed under CC BY 2.0, from PxHere