Does Circular Migration Lead to “Guest Worker” Outcomes?



At first at the level of the European Commission, and increasingly also in the European Union’s member states, it is being recognized that past labour migration management tools have more or less serious drawbacks in that they produce undesired outcomes and do not sufficiently attain the objectives for which they were designed. The welfare states of north-western Europe are discovering that their desire of the past three decades to restrict labour immigration as much as possible is no longer “in sync” with changing labour market demands, which are growing both for the highly skilled and the unskilled. In order to satisfy the demand for unskilled labour, schemes are being proposed that would allow for circular migration. The European Commission is a forceful promoter of these schemes. Member states such as the Netherlands, which we take as a case in point, are also considering modes by which to allow temporary unskilled labour migration, but seem intent on employing regulatory tools that are not very different from those used in the “guest worker” era, which brought about large-scale settlement. Up to the present time, the resulting ethnic minority groups are the subject of large integration efforts on the part of the receiving states. This begs the question of the extent to which “circular migration” would be different from “guest worker” schemes, in its management and its outcomes.