This post revisits a subject I last wrote about in December 2012. In that post, I discussed Daniel Costa’s critique of guest worker programs as they exist now, and noted how moves in the direction of more liberal guest worker programs of the sort considered on this site would be less susceptible to those problems than the status quo. Discussions of the (real or alleged) worker exploitation found in guest worker programs are often used as justification for ending the programs and moving instead to a more closed border regime.
Below are some examples of critiques of guest worker programs:
- The Storefront Maids of Singapore by Kirsten Han, Roads and Kingdoms, looks at Singapore’s guest worker programs for domestic help, also known as maids (see also our blog posts tagged Singapore and Carl Shulman’s overview of Singapore’s migration policy).
- The H-2A visa program for agricultural guest workers in the United States has come under attack for these sorts of reasons repeatedly. See for instance here and here. The H-2B visa program has also come under fire. You can read Daniel Costa’s post (that I also linked at the beginning of this blog post) for more example.
- The condition of workers in the United Arab Emirates has been the subject of repeated criticism, with both female domestic workers and construction workers coming under scrutiny. Here are some reports: Contract Enslavement of Female Migrant
Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, “I Already Bought You” Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates and an article in The Guardian.
- Norm Matloff’s H1B page says that the H-1B work visa is fundamentally about cheap, de facto indentured labor.
The critiques span a range of perspectives, and need to be addressed in terms of their explicit claims, philosophical assumptions, and tacit connotations. For what it’s worth, I think many of the factual claims are correct, but some of the connotations are mistaken. In this post, I concentrate on a specific claim, usually subtextual, but occasionally explicit, namely:
Guest worker programs where workers are tied to a specific employer and cannot easily move to other employers without losing their legal status in the country:
- allow employers to exploit workers in ways they wouldn’t if the workers were free to move around,
- benefit employers at the expense of both migrant workers and the native workers who do similar jobs, and
- exist in their current form (as opposed to a more liberal form) precisely because they allow employers to exploit workers.
(for a related discussion, and some articulation of these points, see here).
I think (1) is true but the emphasis is off, (2) is true only in certain circumstances, and (3) is probably not true. Continue reading Are restrictive guest worker programs in employers’ interests?