Temporary work programs that do not allow workers to settle or bring over their family members have been common in a number of Middle Eastern and Asian countries since the 1970s. The legacy of post-war guest workers in Europe and the Bracero program in the United States has kept most Western countries from considering new schemes even when faced with low-skill labor shortages. But those attitudes began to shift in 2005.
Spain's decision to regularize illegal immigrants this year — an estimated 690,000 applied — was driven partly by the government's desire to turn as many of them as possible into legal, temporary workers. The regularization, similar to Spain's earlier initiatives, does not provide a path to legal permanent residence.
One of the immigration reform proposals in the United States Congress, the Cornyn-Kyl bill, would create a temporary worker program that would be open to illegal immigrants who first return home, but it too would not allow them to settle permanently in the United States.
Malaysia, which attracts hundreds of thousands of workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, is also attempting to turn its illegal migrant population into legal, temporary workers. The government announced in October 2004 that it would allow illegal immigrants to leave the country without penalty before detaining and deporting those found after the "amnesty" deadline passed. Migrants who departed in time would be allowed to return through legal channels. The deadline for leaving was pushed back to February 28, 2005 in response to the tsunami devastation in Indonesia, and what many called a violent crackdown began March 1.
The desire on the part of Western countries to appear in control of immigration flows, coupled with economic and demographic pressures, may well lead to more temporary work programs in the years ahead.
For more information, please see the following articles:
• U.S. Temporary Worker Programs: Lessons Learned
• Regularizing Immigrants in Spain: A New Approach
• Why Countries Continue to Consider Regularization
• Saudi Arabia's Plan for Changing Its Workforce
• Domestic Workers: Little Protection for the Underpaid
• Asian Women Migrants: Going the Distance, But Not Far Enough