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Temporary labour migration, global redistribution, and democratic justice


  • Patti Tamara Lenard

    () (University of Ottawa, Canada)

  • Christine Straehle

    (University of Ottawa, Canada)


Calls to expand temporary work programmes come from two directions. First, as global justice advocates observe, every year thousands of poor migrants cross borders in search of better opportunities, often in the form of improved employment opportunities. As a result, international organizations now lobby in favour of expanding ‘guest-work’ opportunities, that is, opportunities for citizens of poorer countries to migrate temporarily to wealthier countries to fill labour shortages. Second, temporary work programmes permit domestic governments to respond to two internal, contradictory political pressures: (1) to fill labour shortages and (2) to do so without increasing rates of permanent migration. Temporary work programmes permit governments to appear ‘tough’ on migration, while responding to employer pressure to locate workers willing to work in low-skilled, poorly remunerated positions. The coincidence of national self-interest and global justice generates a strong case in favour of expanding guest-work. We evaluate the moral benefits and burdens of expanding guest-work opportunities, and conclude that although there are benefits to be gleaned from the perspective of global wealth redistribution, at present, temporary work programmes are generally unjust. We will argue that just temporary work programmes, in time, permit temporary workers to attain citizenship. This spells the end of traditional temporary work programmes, which require that workers return to their home country in time; instead, what is temporary is the employment obligation that must be fulfilled as a requirement to access citizenship. As long as this requirement is met, we endorse guest-work programmes as a tool to respond to global inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Patti Tamara Lenard & Christine Straehle, 2012. "Temporary labour migration, global redistribution, and democratic justice," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 11(2), pages 206-230, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pophec:v:11:y:2012:i:2:p:206-230

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    Cited by:

    1. Bjerre, Liv & Helbling, Marc & Römer, Friederike & Zobel, Malisa Zora, 2016. "The Immigration Policies in Comparison (IMPIC) Dataset: Technical Report," Discussion Papers, various Research Units SP VI 2016-201, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    2. Valeria Ottonelli & Tiziana Torresi, 2013. "When is Migration Voluntary?," International Migration Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(4), pages 783-813, December.


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