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Guest workers, 1970s to present

Migration A–Z


  1. Anja Wiesbrock

Published Online: 4 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm263

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

How to Cite

Wiesbrock, A. 2013. Guest workers, 1970s to present. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 4 FEB 2013


The term “guest workers” refers to foreign migrant workers, admitted for the purpose of seasonal or temporary low-skilled work to fill a temporary labor need. The concept is most commonly associated with systems of temporary labor recruitment in postwar Western Europe. Even though it is considered the archetype of guest-worker programs, the temporary recruitment of foreign labor and the problems associated with it are in no way unique to Western Europe. Similar schemes have been applied and are still in place in other regions of the world, such as North America and the Gulf States. Guest-worker programs have been found to lead to short-term economic benefits but to be problematic in the long term when they evolve into a resident-worker program. They are likely to produce discrimination against migrant workers and to exacerbate the employment problems of minorities of the resident native population (Martin & Miller 1980). Moreover, there have been human rights concerns associated with the often limited number of rights of low-skilled migrant workers. In particular, there appears to be a trade-off between the number of migrants and the number of rights in a given country (Ruhs & Martin 2008).


  • labor;
  • labor supply;
  • development;
  • poverty;
  • political economy