30 October 2013

We could all benefit from labour migration


After the financial crisis, many Western countries put severe restrictions on temporary migration and granted labour migrants fewer rights than other citizens. This may make labour migrants seek work elsewhere and Western countries lose much-needed foreign labour. International agreements on migration and rights for temporary migrants may solve the problem and benefit everybody involved, suggests PhD Stine Neerup from University of Copenhagen in her new thesis in which she analyses the migration policies of Australia, Denmark and the US during and after the financial crisis.

"Current migration policies in e.g. Denmark and the United States are extremely complicated, and those migrants who succeed in crossing the borders are denied basic rights during their stay. This obviously makes temporary migration less attractive and can, in the long term, make it difficult for us to attract foreign labour. The financial gains labour migration provides receiving and sending states, as well as the migrants themselves, will thus be lost," explains Stine Neerup from University of Copenhagen.

Photo: SEIU International, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

Immigrants protesting in Washington in 2010

According to Stine Neerup, Western states need to address the ways in which they attract foreign labour in the years to come because, despite the financial crisis, high unemployment rates, and restrictions on migration, temporary migration is increasing in OECD countries, new studies show. The need for foreign labour is, in other words, growing in the West and it will continue to grow as populations decrease.

"The three countries I have been analysing will all need labour migrants in the future. In the European Union alone, the population will fall from 521 million in 2035 to 506 million by 2060, making more retirees dependent on a shrinking labour force. This is why it is important to make temporary migration a process everybody can benefit from."

The rights gap has become too wide

According to Stine Neerup, the rights gap between citizens in receiving countries and labour migrants has grown so wide that it will affect receiving countries' ability to attract labour adversely.

"Many temporary migrants work in the receiving country for years, but are denied the opportunity to participate in the democratic process or enjoy welfare state services because, during the financial crisis, migration was deemed harmful to the economy and social cohesion in most receiving countries. But it is completely unlikely that the US will be able to do without labour migration, and this also applies to Denmark and Australia," says Stine Neerup and suggests:

"One solution may be for sending and receiving states to enter into agreements that specify the rights and the welfare state services migrant labour can make use of during their stay. Specifically, an agreement could be on extension of migrants rights after six months' stay. If migrants are too marginalised, neither they nor the sending state will view temporary migration as beneficial, which will also be harmful to the social cohesion of the receiving state."

Circular migration

Stine Neerup points out the suggested bilateral agreements will significantly reduce the costs of temporary migration for the migrants and at the same time maximise the benefits for all involved parties.

"The migrants themselves and the receiving states can obviously benefit hugely from labour migration, but the sending states also stand to profit from this so-called circular migration in which their citizens regularly leave the country to make money in the West; they thus contribute to the economic and educational development of their country both during and after their stay abroad."


PhD Stine Neerup
University of Copenhagen
Phone: + 45 24 84 58 95