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As European policymakers take stock of seasonal worker programmes, MPI Europe brief outlines principles to improve these schemes for all parties
Press Release
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

As European policymakers take stock of seasonal worker programmes, MPI Europe brief outlines principles to improve these schemes for all parties

BRUSSELS — Seasonal worker programmes represent one of the few ways in which low-skilled workers can migrate legally to the European Union, enabling them to work in sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and tourism. Countries have taken different approaches to selecting seasonal workers, with some recruiting from within the European Union and others soliciting workers from third countries. But while some of these programmes are long-established, they can struggle to meet labour demands swiftly while ensuring that workers are treated fairly and will return home when their permits expire.

In recent years, the European Commission has sought to harmonise seasonal worker programmes, both as a way to create common standards for workers’ admission, residence and rights across Europe and to address longstanding issues such as worker exploitation, visa overstays and hiring through the informal economy. The adoption of the Seasonal Workers Directive in 2014 marked a step forward, but with the directive’s implementation still ongoing, it remains to be seen how effective it will be in addressing these policy goals.

As European policymakers take stock of harmonisation efforts to date, a new policy brief by Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe and the Research Unit of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) explores some of the challenges common to these programmes, drawing on examples in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It also highlights practices that can help maximise the benefits of seasonal labour migration for migrants, employers and countries of destination and origin alike—a balancing act the brief terms a ‘challenging proposition’.

The authors, Kate Hooper and Camille Le Coz, sketch a number of principles to guide future reforms. Among them: prioritising more transparent and standardised recruitment procedures, greater monitoring and outreach to protect seasonal workers and strategies to help deliver on the thus far limited investments to support promised economic and social development in sending countries.

‘With European countries pursuing deeper partnerships with third countries, this is also a good moment for policymakers to think more broadly about how to maximise the benefits of these programmes for all stakeholders—employers, migrant workers and countries of origin and destination—and how to align seasonal worker programmes with their broader legal migration and development policy agendas’, the brief concludes.

The brief, Seasonal Worker Programmes in Europe: Promising practices and ongoing challenges, is part of a two-year research project, Legal Migration for Work and Training: Mobility options to Europe for those not in need of protection, conducted by SVR in cooperation with MPI Europe. The project, funded by the Stiftung Mercator, is meant to address the knowledge gap in how new or alternative migration channels for low- and middle-skilled nationals for the purposes of work and training could look in practice. Earlier reports in the series include country case studies examining legal migration programmes in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. The series also features a synthesis report that explores existing legal migration options and challenges in policy design and implementation, pairing the country case study findings with analysis of the European Union’s external migration policy.

Read the policy brief here:  www.migrationpolicy.org/research/seasonal-worker-programs-europe.

Read all reports in the project here: www.svr-migration.de/en/publications/mobility_options_to_europe/.


MPI Europe provides authoritative research and practical policy design to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders who seek more effective management of immigration, immigrant integration and asylum systems, as well as better outcomes for newcomers, families of immigrant background and receiving communities throughout Europe. MPI Europe also provides a forum for the exchange of information on migration and immigrant integration practices within the European Union and Europe more generally.