Skilled migration in Germany and Australia: Some Reflexions on Guiding Principles and Governance Modes
Skilled migration is seen in many countries as a key to counteracting labour market shortages and demographic challenges. The migration of highly skilled persons has already constituted the main emphasis of a number of publications (Peixoto 2001, Iredale 1999, Boyd 2013, Cerna 2014). These studies show that the labour market access of migrants depends to a high degree on the successful completion of respective recognition procedures, both in the European Union and in many countries beyond Europe. In international terms, there is already a series of countries in which the recognition of professional and vocational qualifications acquired abroad is regulated - Australia and Germany are two of them.
The paper describes and analysis the approach towards the recognition of foreign qualifications in their specific application context in Germany and Australia. Special focus is given to the underlying principles (the drivers for "skilled migrations") and governance modes in both countries.
Against this background some fundamental questions are linked with the implementation of recognition practices: How do countries with a long history of immigration (like Australia) approach the recognition of vocational qualifications? Which drivers influenced the promulgation of the German "Federal Recognition Act"? What are the perceived challenges to be faced in both countries? What is the main function and the purpose of recognition? And last but not least: To what extent recognition is treated first and foremost as a migration policy issue, a means for protecting domestic labour markets or as a challenge for vocational education and training?
Often discussed as a migration policy issue, recognition of qualifications acquired abroad has not until now been the subject of comparative VET research nor geared towards the target group of vocationally trained persons (skilled workers, journeymen, employees) at an intermediate qualification level (EQF level 3-5). The project MoVA “Models and procedures for the recognition of vocational qualifications and competences acquired abroad” tried to fill that gap by analysing recognition models and strategies in selected EU and non-EU countries from a VET perspective (Canada, Australia, UK).
Approaching the recognition of foreign qualifications from a VET perspective means to be aware of the fact that “qualification”, “occupation” and “VET” are social constructs carrying the very highest degree of cultural and societal connotations (Eberhardt/Annen 2015). The recognition models map these specific interpretations. They vary depending on - whether the focus is on a regulated or non-regulated occupations - whether the goal is permanent or temporary migration, - which type of qualifications is involved and - from which country the applicant is from. The paper ends with some reflexions on the "portability" of qualifications: if "qualification" is understood as "cultural capital" (Bourdieu) what it its value in another cultural context?
The project MoVA was designed as an exploratory study relating both to governance and to the level of implementation of models for foreign skills approval. Alongside this monitoring approach anchored at the level of educational systems, the procedures applied formed a further focus of the project. The project was implemented in several phases, summarised as "Screening", "Briefing", "Investigating" and "Concluding".
Screening: the countries to form the object of investigation were selected on the basis of a “screening” process. Against the background of data relating to migration, labour market policy and education and training, the status of development of the recognition procedures applied and the availability and accessibility of relevant information, nine countries were presented in the form of criteria-based profiles. The decision was taken to choose two European countries (the UK and Switzerland) and two non-European countries (Canada and Australia) for further analysis.
Briefing: Fundamental documents relating to the policy, legal, theoretical and conceptual backgrounds of the respective recognition models in the countries selected were analysed. The result was four “briefing reports” summarising the current status.
Investigating/Interviewing: The interviews were based on an interview guide containing pre-defined categories. The interviews were conducted in a problem-centred manner with regard to the recognition of qualifications acquired abroad. Each of the transcribed interviews was subjected to a MAXQDA based content analysis evaluation and to condensed descriptions.
Evaluation: The collation of the results from the various phases of research led to the identification and systematisation of the models and procedures deployed in the countries, of their methodological conceptual principles and of the prevailing general institutional conditions.
The paper is focusing on the Australian Approach which is in many ways interesting: Australia is actively working with the Australian Qualification Framework, its understanding of vocational qualifications is very similar to the German one, it is a more or less centralized system with a comprehensive approach towards skills recognition (in contrast to Canada where the autonomy of the provinces is much higher) and its implementation is based on a clear political will and strategy.
Based on around 20 interviews with Australian experts and stakeholders the paper introduces the concept of “skilled migration”- including the implemented procedures of skills recognition and skills approval. The Australian concept will be discussed and contrasted with the German approach towards the recognition of qualifications acquired abroad.
“Recognition” in a VET context is understood as a formal procedure assessing the qualification acquired abroad towards a domestic reference occupation. The knowing which occupational competences are possessed by a person who has acquired a certain qualification should facilitate matching processes on the labour market. Thus a recognition process is geared towards creating trust between the labour market (the party that accepts qualifications) and the individual (the person who is applying for skilled work). Procedures how to recognise foreign qualifications are more or less comparable in Australia and in Germany.
Approaching the topic from a sociological or policy perspective recognition apparently can serve various functions, depending the political drivers and the respective framework conditions in which recognition takes place: (1) it can be geared to attracting people from abroad to domestic labour markets, (2) it can overtake a restrictive function and link entry permit with recognition, (3) it can serve selective purposes and allow permission only to those individuals that are needed on the labour market, (4) it can have a integrative function, giving status and access to the labour market regardless whether they are already in the country or whether they want to migrate into the country.
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