Friday, May 18, 2012

Why are seasonal immigrant worker programs so unpopular?

Immigration policy is difficult to optimize, first because some economic rents are at stake, second because people do not want to share the luck of being born in the right place and at the right moment with foreigners who do not have that luck. But even within that context, a policy of seasonal immigration should be easy to adopt, as everybody wins: immigrants are let in only when labor demand is very high and cannot be met by locals, and the immigrants leave when the labor demand is back to normal. And the immigrants are willing to go for it, as it provides good income that is valued as they return home. This is a winning proposition for everyone, yet such policies are rare, and when they exist, they are little used. Why?

Danielle Hay and Stephen Howes take the example of Australia, where such a policy has been adopted for the horticulture industry but little used. It appears growers are reluctant to hire seasonals even when they have trouble finding workers. Either they are unaware, or they are afraid of red tape, or they prefer to hire back-packers (illegals) who show up on their doorstep. So it appears that once more, the fact that illegals can be exploited runs counter to good policy. Again, I appeal that we should give give each worker, legal or not, the same rights. Another win-win proposition.

1 comment:

Stephen Howes said...

Thanks for your response to our paper. I just want to clarify that backpackers are not illegal workers. But there are plenty of them (from other developed countries). And,unlike the Pacific seasonal workers, they organize their own travel, and you don't need government permission to hire them. In 2005, Australia gave backpackers an incentive to work on farms but telling them that if they did for three months they could stay in Australia for another year. This policy has increased the supply of backpackers to farms and in turn this has undermined the success of the Pacific seasonal worker scheme when it was introduced in 2008.

Stephen Howes.