Working Paper

Openness, Skills and Rights: An Empirical Analysis of Labour Immigration Programmes in 46 High- and Middle-income Countries

Published 1 January 2011 / By COMPAS Communications

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There is a large gap between the comprehensive set of rights of migrant workers (“migrant rights”) stipulated in international human rights law and the much more limited rights granted by national laws and policies to many migrants working in high- and middle-income countries. To understand why, when and how nation-states restrict migrant workers’ rights, and to discuss what rights migrant workers should have, we need to consider the potential inter-relationships between migrant rights on the one hand, and national policies for admitting migrant workers on the other hand. To study these inter-relationships in practice, this paper constructs and analyses two separate indices that measure: (i) the ‘openness’ of over 100 labour immigration programmes in 46 high- and middle-income countries to admitting migrant workers; and (ii) the legal rights (civil and political, economic, social, residency, and family reunion rights) granted to migrant workers after admission. The analysis distinguishes between policies toward low-, medium-, and high-skilled migrant workers. The paper uses these indices to identify key features and variations of labour immigration programmes in high- and middle-income countries. The analysis suggests that both openness and some migrant rights are positively related to the skill level targeted by the labour immigration programme (i.e. programmes designed to admit and employ higher-skilled migrants are more open and grant more rights than programmes targeting lower-skilled migrants). For upper high-income countries, the paper also finds some evidence of a trade-off (i.e. a negative relationship) between openness and certain specific migrant rights in programmes targeting specific skill groups of migrants (i.e. programmes that are more open to admitting migrant workers also impose greater restrictions on specific migrant rights).


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