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Circular Migration: A Matter of Trial and Error
Press Release
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Circular Migration: A Matter of Trial and Error

New MPI Report Examines Circular Migration Programs and Finds Improvement on Temporary Worker Programs of the Past

WASHINGTON – Policymakers in migrant-receiving countries all over the world are exploring the concept of circular migration as a way to improve upon the discredited temporary worker programs of the past. As a new policy tool that allows migrants to move more freely back and forth between their origin and destination countries, circular migration increases the likelihood that global mobility gains will be shared by both – and gives migrants more options to advance their working lives. Despite the growing interest, a new Migration Policy Institute report finds that the concept of circular migration is not well understood and that the experience of circular programs around the world remains thin.

The report, Learning by Doing: Experiences of Circular Migration, examines the track record of seasonal and other circular migration programs around the world – including the United States, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.

“The latest generation of circular migration programs is broader and more dynamic than one-time-only temporary programs strictly oriented toward the labor-market needs of receiving countries. They anticipate that migrants maintain active involvement in both their home and destination countries, and travel back and forth between them repeatedly,” said report co-author Kathleen Newland, director of MPI’s Program on Migrants, Migration and Development.

The report, by Newland, Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias and Aaron Terrazas, outlines steps governments can take to encourage circulation migration – and decrease the illegal immigration that is sometimes inadvertently fostered by poorly designed programs.

Among the steps destination-country governments should consider:

  • Guaranteeing repeat access for workers who comply with the program’s terms
  • Making social security and pension benefits portable
  • Tailoring family unification policies to fit the duration and aims of the circular programs
  • Providing training for temporary workers to upgrade their skills
  • Designing a circular worker program with enough flexibility to respond to specific labor market needs.
  • Permitting dual citizenship and relaxing the residency requirements for retaining permanent legal status

“Circular migration policy will remain a matter of trial and error for some time. And practice is likely to remain far ahead of policy,” Newland said. “Understanding how circular migration works when it develops spontaneously – and tailoring programs to fit those patterns of mobility – are perhaps the most valuable sources of insight for policymakers interested in better program design.”

The report is available online at: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/Insight-IGC-Sept08.pdf