Temporary Foreign Worker Programmes: Policies, Adverse Consequences, and the Need to Make Them Work

Published 1 January 2003 / By Martin Ruhs

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This paper comparatively discusses the policies and adverse consequences of six major temporary foreign worker programmes (TFWPs) in five different countries (Germany, Kuwait, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States). I find that the six TFWPs have been quite different in design but rather similar in their adverse consequences. The latter include (i) the emergence of “immigrant sectors” in the host economy, (ii) the vulnerability of migrant workers to various forms of exploitation in recruitment and employment, (iii) the tendency of TFWPs to become longer in duration and bigger in size than initially envisaged; (iv) native workers’ opposition to the introduction or expansion of a TFWP; and (v) the emergence of illegal foreign workers who, together with native employers, circumvent the programme. Given that most countries lack viable alternatives to TFWPs, I argue that there is an urgent need to develop new types of TFWPs that avoid and learn from the past policy mistakes identified in this paper. The paper concludes by proposing seven general policy principles for making TFWPs work.


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