Numbers vs. Rights: Trade-Offs and Guest Worker Programs Martin Ruhs, Philip Martin


This paper examines the relationship between the number and rights of low-skilled migrant workers in high-income countries. It identifies a trade-off: Countries with large numbers of low-skilled migrant workers offer them relatively few rights, while smaller numbers of migrants are typically associated with more rights. We discuss the number-vs.-rights trade-off in theory and practice as an example of competing goods, raising the question of whether numbers of migrants or rights of migrants should get higher priority. There is no easy or universal answer, but avoiding an explicit discussion of the issue – as has been done in recent guest worker debates – can obscure an important policy choice.

Ruhs, M. and Martin, P. (2008) ‘Numbers vs. Rights: Trade-Offs and Guest Worker Programs’, International Migration Review, 42(1): 249-265