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Symposium 2012

Solution for Designing Intelligent Labor Migration Policies

The Challenge

While the world economy continues to become more global, international labor mobility remains severely restricted for all but those with rare or high skills. Many people in developing countries would ...

While the world economy continues to become more global, international labor mobility remains severely restricted for all but those with rare or high skills. Many people in developing countries would like to emigrate legally to work abroad but they do not qualify for admission to destination countries. This is because policy-makers typically focus on the net national economic impact when considering reforms of their labor migration policies and they naturally respond to public opinion about that impact.

Establish multientry sectoral work permits for labor migrants in destination countries.

Multientry work visas would allow for the departure and reentry of workers over several years without the need for reapplication. This would enhance labor mobility by allowing workers to circulate between their source and destination countries in pursuit of the best work opportunities. Labor migrants often get "locked into" a destination country because they do not want to risk losing their work and residence permits.

Employers would also benefit from increased certainty when predicting their human resource needs, as well as decreased administrative burdens. The work permits would not be restricted to one employer but to all employers within a sector (for example, agriculture, tourism, fishing or construction) to ensure that labor market needs continue to be met, especially in low and mid-level skill sectors. Sectoral work permits would also help to protect migrants against exploitation because they would no longer be tied to a single employer.

In industries with seasonal and cyclical fluctuations in labor market demand (such as agriculture and construction), this flexibility would also allow workers to move from one employer to another depending on when work is available, maximizing earnings for workers and decreasing their “down time.” If there were concerns that migrants might stay permanently in the destination country, limits could be placed on their ability to stay beyond the period of time allotted in the work permit (for example, individual workers could be granted a one-time, five-year cumulative work permit).

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