Objective 18 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) aims to foster the mutual recognition of qualifications, competences and skills, as well as to promote demand-driven skills development and ensure decent work for labour migrants. We offer a concise overview of reports submitted by States during the first meeting to review the Compact in the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) region, which took place in November 2020. Fifty-six countries (in Europe, North America, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Western Asia) were invited to highlight specific measures developed for implementing Objective 18 of the GCM. Objective 18 has been addressed by 16 states, namely Albania, Belarus, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Malta, Moldova, North Macedonia, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and Uzbekistan.
To be effective, the assessment and recognition of foreign qualifications and skills in all their complexity requires appropriate regulatory and institutional frameworks. It demands changes – innovations – that can take into consideration different national circumstances and resources. As stressed by United Nations Major Group For Children and Youth: “Inflexible and burdensome requirements on documentation that do not take into account the situation of home countries mean that many migrants are unable to meet the requirements, and thus are not able to work in their professions and contribute with their skills to their new communities. Young migrants bring with them incredible talent and potential – let’s stop wasting it!”. The adoption of the GCM has the potential to mark a significant turn of events in this issue area and this short analysis aims to examine the role of innovation in terms of tools and techniques to promote recognition (processes and procedures), evolution and effectiveness.
1. Recognition of Qualifications and Skills: Instruments and approaches
Recognition of qualifications, including with the aim of fulfilling Objective 18, is based on the classical distinction between academic and professional recognition. Academic qualifications are diplomas/degrees and other certificates obtained upon completion of educational programmes, whereas professional qualifications cover regulated and non-regulated professions. Against this backdrop, the recognition of foreign qualifications has been facilitated in several ways. Examples of recent developments at the national level include the Law on the National Qualifications Framework adopted by Serbia in 2018 together with the establishment of its National Qualifications Framework, which is “aligned with the European Qualifications Framework”. This new legal tool recognizes qualifications acquired “through formal and non-formal education”. Serbia also created a new body, the Qualification Agency, to support the implementation of the recognition process. Ireland has also begun an institutional reorganization by assigning to the newly created institution, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, responsibility for the fulfilment of Objective 18.
At the same time, bilateral and regional frameworks are becoming increasingly relevant. In 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) issued the Guidelines for skills modules in bilateral labour migration agreements (BLMAs) as a tool to improve the recognition, matching and development of migrant workers’ skills to respond to the demand in countries of destination. The ILO together with the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Organisation of Employers, and the International Trade Union Confederation jointly established an innovative mechanism, the Global Skills Partnership on Migration, which is intended to mobilize the member organizations’ expertise and to support all stakeholders in the recognition and development of migrants’ skills.
The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees of the Council of Europe highlighted on-going efforts at the regional level. This includes the work done in line with Article VII of the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region. A case in point is the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR) created to ensure the assessment and recognition of qualifications of refugees, internally displaced persons and individuals in a “refugee-like situation”. The EQPR is a standardized document that contains information on language proficiency, work experience and higher education qualifications. Its standardized format ensures its portability across borders.
Regional specificities exist when it comes to mutual recognition procedures. Kazakhstan, in its report, touches on the 1994 Commonwealth of Independent States Agreement on Cooperation in Labour Migration and Social Protection of Migrant Workers, which includes provisions for mutual recognition of “diplomas, certificates on education, the relevant documents on assignment of rank, the category, qualification and other documents, necessary for implementation of labour activity” (Article 4). With this agreement in place, Kazakhstan has regulated the process of recognition for certification documents at all educational levels attained in foreign educational institutions.
ZOOM IN – Innovative Techniques: Digitalization
Objective 18 specifically calls attention to the potential of using technology and digitalization to foster innovation in this issue area (Obj. 18, para. 34, let. e).
A prime example is provided by Malta, which in 2005 launched the digitalization of procedures for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. This innovative approach has focused on speeding up the process for verifying the employability of migrant workers. In addition, Malta has made substantial efforts to ensure the assessment of informal qualifications. The agency Jobsplus conducts “trade testing” to determine the type of competence, skills and qualifications, and a Certificate of Competence is awarded once the process is completed. Refugees and third country nationals long-term residents may also benefit from the different services of Jobsplus. In particular, the Employment Advisor offers assistance in finding a job by supporting the drafting of a Personal Action Plan that could also help in identifying skills gaps. Most recently, services have been extended to individuals who have been granted temporary humanitarian and subsidiary protection, and to asylum seekers through a project co-funded by the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.
Likewise, Turkey has reported efforts to digitalize the application process for equivalence certificates for diplomas at higher education levels.
2. Skills Development and Vocational Training
According to the definition provided by UNESCO-UNEVOC, skills development refers to the “training process through which the education and training system produces (i) the competencies on demand in the labour market; or (ii) interventions, once the skills gaps have been identified, to fill them and raise the abilities of the workers, matching the labour demand.” This aspect is crucial from a domestic standpoint, for example Albania in its National Employment and Skills Strategy (2019–2022), together with its Plan of Action, identified skills development as a “priority of labour force and labour market development”. The reports also touch on another important issue: how to design and implement active policies that ensure that the skills of migrant workers are recognized and further developed. Belgium reported on several projects that are underway to fill specific skills gaps and are tailored to individuals’ needs. One example is the PALIM project (Pilot Project addressing Labour Shortages through Innovative Labour Migration Models) that offers training in Morocco and in the Flemish region for Moroccan citizens. In Germany, access to vocational training has been improved with the adoption of an Act to Promote the Training and Employment of Foreigners. The funding programme “Integration through Qualification” offers support to migrants for the recognition of their qualifications. A funding mechanism has also been set up in Belarus to improve skills development.
3. Future Achievements: The role of research
In conclusion, although the reports highlight promising dynamism and several ways to navigate through the complexity of the recognition process, it is still a work in progress. Future achievements could benefit from the results of research projects as well as from sharing best practices. This is highlighted by the Republic of North Macedonia where new analysis is planned on integration and reintegration measures to advance the national framework on recognition and skills development. In line with this proactive approach, the United Kingdom is also implementing a new study on ensuring the portability of qualifications and skills in the Regional Economic Communities in East and West Africa. In its report, the UK emphasizes that “alongside their economic contribution, migrants make important social contributions to host countries. Their different skills and perspective broaden horizons and understanding of those already in the country and contribute in developing new skills”.
 Elisa Fornalé is SNSF Professor at the World Trade Institute (WTI), University of Bern. Elias Bieri is a research assistant at the WTI. The authors acknowledges the support of the SNSF grant no. PP00P1163700.
 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNEVOC).
 ILO (2020), Guidelines for skills modules in bilateral labour migration agreements, ILO, Geneva, 13.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law Initiative. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.