Achieving fair recognition of migrants' qualifications

Every year tens of thousands of people move from countries beyond the European Union’s boundaries to live, study and work in the community. Recognition by the destination country of the qualifications that migrants have attained at home is critical in influencing how successful they are in settling and assimilating into their new lives in the EU.

On Wednesday (Dec 8) the European Training Foundation ran an online event where three experts on qualifications and the recognition of migrant skills talked about the issue. 

Concentrating on legal migration, the discussion “Fair Recognition of Migrants’ Qualifications” also included a glimpse into the Council of Europe’s European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR), which supports refugees by describing their qualifications, so supporting their applications for study or employment.

Fairer recognition of migrants’ qualifications and skills offers a two-way street that benefits both migrants and their host countries – and could be valuable if and when migrants return to their home countries, bringing new skills back with them, the guest speakers agreed.

Ilir Deda, Expert on Human Capital Development at the Western Balkans Regional Development Council – an inter-governmental group in South East Europe working on integrating the Western Balkans into the EU and towards a regional common market, said “the heart of the problem is that people with skills and qualifications may struggle to get fair recognition of those when they move from outside to EU to the EU – and can end up being under-employed.”

He added: “I think we can call this a brain waste in world where we are all talking about a brain drain [from the Western Balkans].”

Michael Graham, a qualifications expert at the ETF, said Michael Graham observed that “Often qualifications are not well understood – particularly VET qualifications, which are more diverse than those from higher education,” he said. “We have evidence of the underuse of people’s abilities, including from a recent ETF study on migration from the six Western Balkan countries”.

The ETF, which has a proven track record in helping neighbourhood countries modernise their qualifications systems, would be doing more work on the recognition of qualifications next year, he said.

Marina Malgina, of NOKUT, the Norwegian centre for the recognition of foreign qualifications, who is currently working for Council of Europe in Strasbourg and is a specialist in the recognition of refugees’ qualifications, noted that there was a Europe-wide network of offices that supported the recognition of qualifications.

The recognition of qualifications was “one of the main activities of the Council of Europe in the field of HE and research,” she said. The Council of Europe, in cooperation with UNESCO, had adopted a convention on the recognition of HE qualifications (known as the Lisbon Convention), which provides the legal basis for recognition within the European HE area.

The Council, the European Commission and UNESCO collectively run the network of offices where foreign qualifications could be validated, known as ENIC-NARIC. These centres should be the first place turn to for help in achieving recognition of their qualifications.

“These centres can issue attesting documents for the qualifications obtained outside the home country. They are also responsible for technical VET, depending on local rules and regulations in respective countries,” she added.

National Qualification Frameworks [NQFs] support recognition of migrants’ qualifications, Mr Graham said.

“NQFs structure and systemise qualifications so they can be compared more easily within a country or between countries. Where they are linked to a regional framework such as the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) they facilitate the interpretation of a qualification and its level. All Western Balkan countries are part of the EQF process. So, an Albanian going to work in Germany could present a qualification bearing an NQF level, say Level 5, which an employer can understand via the EQF”.

While employers or educational institutions in the EU are not obliged to accept such foreign qualifications, it does provide information about the person’s skills level.

“It is always useful when supplemented by a transcript of what the qualification contains, the outcomes which tell us what a person can do” he added. “Qualifications registers or databases provide more detailed information on the qualification’s linked standards, programmes and occupations”.

In the Western Balkans the mutual recognition of qualifications was seen as a priority to help drive the creation of a regional common market that could add up to 7% additional GDP every year to national economies, Mr Deda noted.

“We could shorten recognition from four months to two weeks and within a few years achieve automatic recognition. The establishment of a recognition database would help a lot – we currently have 5,000 requests for HE qualification recognition alone every year.”

Such a process could also speed the accession process for the Western Balkan 6, all of which were EU candidate countries, he added.

Questions on who paid for the recognition qualifications varied from country to country, Ms. Malgina said, but in many EU states the process was free, particularly for refugees or recognised asylum seekers.

For regulated professions – medical personnel, architects and other sectors, more stringent requirements apply.

“Holding the requisite qualification is a must for recruitment into a position in any of the regulated professions”, Mr Graham said.

As for refugees, although the EQPR had only recently been introduced, more than 730 interviews conducted and over 610 EQPRs issued, and there were 13 countries participating in the programme, Ms. Malgina said.

“We are seeing good results from this cooperation - we are able to help refugees even when they cannot provide any documents at all, based on an interview with officials from two different ENIC-NARIC offices.”

The EQPR “describes the highest qualification the person has achieved or even when a qualification has not been fully completed, so the background of that individual can be shown. This can be relevant for further studies or finding a job.”

Employers in Norway and Germany had already proven willing to accept the EQPR, she added.

As for the future of qualifications recognition, the experts agreed that it should be “automatic, digital, and fair, accessible and fit for purpose.”

To see the full conversation:


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