Published In

Citizenship Studies

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Immigration; Labour; Temporary Labour Migration; Hannah Arendt


In this chapter, we seek to explore the potential of new temporary labour migration programs to yield different outcomes than earlier guestworker programs in the 1980s and 1990s. By looking at key elements of temporary labour migration we assess the potential for an alternative trajectory for understanding and reframing the discussion in terms which are capable of responding in a more emancipatory way to the lived experiences of migrant workers. We have identified three concepts central to most analyses of temporary migration policies and programs: temporariness, the labour market, and rights. Our central contention is that these concepts function ideologically, and as such they constrain innovation with regard to temporary migrant labour programs. Our aim is to build on earlier waves of scholarship regarding guestworker programs. Primary among these are that once temporary migrant labourers arrive, it is difficult to ensure their departure, and the longer they remain, the harder it is to develop a theoretical argument for their exclusion from the polity and the territory. Similarly, we seek to build upon the insight that while workers may be invited, it is human beings who arrive. These touchstones are vital to understanding the linkage between temporary labour migration and illegal migration, and the policy trade-offs between the two categories which underpin state policy but which, for fairly obvious reasons, are rarely articulated by policy makers. We situate our analysis in the post-global era because a key difference from earlier guest worker programs is the backdrop of advancing globalization. This affects each of our key starting points: temporariness, labour markets, and rights. Followng a brief discussion of ideology as a framing concept, we first sketch the shape of temporary labour migration, paying attention to what is ‘new’ at present and to points of convergence between the states we take as examples (Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom). This sketch grounds our consideration of the notion of temporariness and the aims and interests it serves. The subsequent section considers the representation of national labour markets within temporary labour migration programs. Following this, we turn to the possibilities and impossibilities of rights remedies for temporary workers. We draw on Hannah Arendt’s insight that labour is a vital aspect of the human condition to consider new ways of conceptualizing temporary migrant labour programs.

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