Major rationales for temporary labor migration programs

Typical origin/goal Examples
1. Fill jobs left vacant due to a labor shortage
Labor supply has shrunk and is not meeting demand Regions are short agriculture workers because local workers have found better nonfarm job options, and/or agriculture employers failed to raise wages high enough to keep workers and attract new workers.
Labor demand has risen faster than labor supply Demand has increased for information technology and health care jobs at the same time training requirements have increased, but since wages have not increased, IT and health care workers have not invested in needed training and potential new workers have not entered these occupations.
Labor demand has risen but the supply is constrained by low wages. Demand has risen for in-home caregivers, whose wages are low because they serve in the public sector and are thus financed by taxes that politicians do not want to raise. Low wages have made it difficult to attract additional local workers.
2. Manage inevitable migration
Geopolitical changes have led to migration flows that governments must respond to. The German government did not want to erect new walls after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 so it created seasonal worker programs for workers from Poland and other Eastern European countries.
European Union Mobility Partnerships were created with countries outside the EU. Receiving-country governments provide aid and some legal migration slots in exchange for sending-country governments taking steps to reduce unauthorized migration to the EU.
3. Allow cross-border commuting
National borders have divided natural labor markets. Malaysia and Singapore share a labor market; some seasonal farmworkers working in the United States under the H-2A visa program live in Mexico.
4. Facilitate youth exchange programs and admit foreign students
Cultural, scientific, and education exchanges that permit employment in destination countries promote foreign policy goals. The U.S. allows J-1 visa exchange visitors to work while learning about the U.S.; Australia’s Working Holiday Maker program supports youth travel through work visas; Japan allows employers to hire trainees who work and learn for several years.
Foreign students work part time or full time in destination countries to gain work experience. Foreign students in the U.S. may work part time while enrolled in university or full time after graduating in the Optional Practical Training program.
5. Allow intra-corporate transferees (ICT)
Multinational companies need to move managers, executives, and workers with special knowledge of the firm’s operations between offices and subsidiary companies in different countries. World Trade Organization General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) includes commitments to allow ICTs; ICTs in the U.K.; U.S. L-1 visas authorize ICTs.
6. Fulfill trade agreement provisions
Trade agreements may contain provisions that allow cross-border mobility to workers from trade agreement countries or allow service providers to move employees between countries, either as ICTs, business visitors, or by creating other types of work visas. WTO’s GATS commitments include provisions for ICTs and cross-border service providers; EU free movement; North American Free Trade Agreement TN visa allows professionals from Canada and Mexico to work indefinitely for U.S. employers.
7. Facilitate foreign investment in countries of destination
It is beneficial to allow foreign investors to live and work in the country where the investment is made, in order to manage their investments, and sometimes these foreign investors need the help of key employees who accompany them. The U.S. permits investors to reside and work in the U.S. with E-1 visas and permits “essential” employees of the investor to live and work in the U.S. with E-2 visas.

Sources: Daniel Costa and Jennifer Rosenbaum, Temporary Foreign Workers by the Numbers: New Estimates by Visa Classification, Economic Policy Institute, March 7, 2017; Ray Marshall, Value-Added Immigration: Lessons for the United States from Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom (Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, 2011); Martin Ruhs, The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration (New Haven, Conn.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013); Christiane Kuptsch and Nana Oishi, Training Abroad: German and Japanese Schemes for Workers from Transition Economies or Developing Countries, International Labour Organization, September 1995; Magdalena Osumi, “Abuses Still Abound in Labor-Strapped Japan’s Foreign ‘Trainee’ Worker System,” The Japan Times, January 2, 2018; World Trade Organization, General Agreement on Trade in Services (web library and services database).

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