International migration is probably the most effective mechanism we know to rapidly increase the incomes of poor people (Clemens et al., 2008). However, it is also one of the most controversial, with migrant-receiving countries worried about the costs of assimilating workers and their families. Temporary or circular migration programs are seen as a way of overcoming such concerns and enabling poorer, less-skilled workers to benefit from the higher incomes to be earned abroad as part of a “triple-win”, whereby migrants, the sending country, and the receiving country all benefit.
Which all sounds great in theory. So David McKenzie and John Gibson evaluated New Zealand’s new (2007) seasonal worker program (using matched difference-in-differences), finding it
among the most effective development policies evaluated to date. The policy was designed as a best practice example based on lessons elsewhere, and now should serve as a model for other countries to follow.
Which is great and all, but as I’ve mentioned before, the impacts of migration are pretty clearly positive to me – the challenge and the interesting question is how you change attitudes in rich countries to migration. I worry that the enforceability of temporary migration is a hard sell. I’d like to see how New Zealanders are responding to this program.