Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico Offer Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration If Challenges Are Addressed
WASHINGTON — The exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from northern Central America since 2014 amid deep economic insecurity, violence, natural disasters and corruption represents a long-term challenge as countries in the Western Hemisphere seek to achieve orderly and well-managed migration. Deterrence-only strategies are unlikely to halt unauthorized migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras without legal pathways that provide alternatives to irregular movement and the strengthening of humanitarian protection systems across the region to help those in need of safe harbor.
As part of the multi-pronged strategy to more effectively manage migration that was endorsed by 21 countries at the conclusion of the Summit of the Americas last week, the creation or expansion of temporary worker programs that create new patterns of circulation would allow Central American migrants to remain rooted in their communities of origin for much of the year while also filling labor shortages in migrant-destination countries. A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report out today examines the potential for Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico to expand existing employment-based pathways to attract workers who are much needed in key industries on a seasonal or temporary basis.
The report, Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica: Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration?, examines the framework and implementation of existing labor migration pathways in the three countries, informed in part by interviews with government officials, employer and job placement agencies, and other migration and industry experts. It identifies challenges that employers and migrant workers face in each country and outlines necessary reforms and possibilities to expand existing labor pathways.
While most of the focus on creating temporary worker programs has centered on the H-2 seasonal work programs in the United States, the conversation should expand to promising opportunities that exist elsewhere in the region, the report’s authors argue.
Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which relies mostly on Mexicans but also already recruits significant numbers of Guatemalans, could expand to attract workers from elsewhere in northern Central America. Mexico also could consider expanding its Border Worker Visa, which allows Guatemalan and Belizean migrants to work in states along the Mexico-Guatemala border. And Costa Rica’s recent efforts to incorporate Nicaraguans into its labor market could serve as the basis to provide opportunities for other Central Americans to work legally in the country.
“Temporary employment programs offer considerable promise as legal alternatives to irregular migration for Central Americans, but policymakers, employers and other stakeholders in Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica would need to address a range of challenges if this promise is to be realized,” said MPI Policy Analyst Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, one of the report’s authors.
The analysts note that concerns about exploitative recruitment practices, inadequate safeguards of workers’ rights by destination countries and gender imbalances are among those that would need to be addressed if existing temporary worker programs are to be responsibly expanded.
“If countries in the region can adequately address these concerns, the expansion of temporary employment programs can serve as the foundation for a regional web of legal migration pathways that leverages the strengths of the labor markets in Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States to better manage migration through the region while meeting key labor needs,” Ruiz Soto said.
The report complements an earlier MPI publication that examined the potential for the U.S. government to expand the existing H-2A and H-2B seasonal worker programs to northern Central American workers, as a means to both meet U.S. labor needs and convert some irregular flows to legal ones. The H-2A agricultural worker program and H-2B non-agricultural worker programs overwhelmingly rely on Mexican laborers, with scant numbers coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
You can read today’s report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/temporary-worker-programs-canada-mexico-costa-rica.
The report is also available in Spanish here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/programas-trabajadores-temporales-canada-mexico-costa-rica.
This work is the latest from MPI’s Building a Regional Migration System project. It presents a new approach to managing regional migration that is centered around four specific pillars: effective humanitarian protection systems, targeted legal pathways, professionalized migration management and informed investments in development and governance in countries of origin, transit and reception.