E.g., 07/01/2022
E.g., 07/01/2022
Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica: Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration?

The arrival of large numbers of Central Americans at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years and the complex motivations driving them to leave their countries has once more demonstrated the need for comprehensive strategies to manage migration through the region. The lion’s share of these migrants come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and poverty, food insecurity, and limited livelihood opportunities are among the forces pushing many to migrate. Central Americans have access to few legal migration pathways, but expanding them could promote safer, legal movement in the region and potentially reduce border pressures.

Temporary worker programs are a promising alternative to some irregular migration. The circularity built into these programs is often attractive to both destination countries seeking a reliable but nonpermanent pool of labor to fill shortages in key industries and to participating workers who wish to earn money abroad while remaining rooted in their origin communities.

The United States is the intended destination for many Central Americans, and prior MPI research has outlined ways to better leverage U.S. temporary work programs, but similar opportunities also exist in other countries. This report looks at how Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica could use their employment-based visa programs to expand alternatives to irregular migration for Central Americans and at the same time address pressing labor needs. It examines the challenges these programs have faced to date, including in recruitment processes and worker protections, that should be addressed.

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Table of Contents 

1  Introduction

2  Canada
A. Challenges and Considerations for the SAWP and TGWP
B. Promising Policy Options

3  Mexico
A. Current Labor Migration Pathways for Central Americans
B. Challenges with the TVTF
C. Alternative Labor Pathways and Policy Options

4  Costa Rica
A. The Evolution of Costa Rica’s Management of Migrant Workers
B. Building on Recent Policy Innovations

5  Conclusion