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The Ethics of Labor Immigration Policy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2004

Martin Ruhs
Martin Ruhs is Senior Labour Market Economist at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford. He can be reached at
Ha-Joon Chang
Ha-Joon Chang is Assistant Director of Development Studies at the Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Cambridge. He can be reached at
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This article examines the key ethical questions in the design of labor immigration programs. We propose a two-dimensional matrix of ethical space that isolates a number of different ethical frameworks on the basis of the degree of consequentialism they allow and the moral standing they accord to noncitizens. We argue for the rejection of extreme ethical frameworks and propose criteria that should guide national policymakers in their choice and application of a framework within the ethical subspace of moderate consequentialism and moderate moral standing for noncitizens. To translate these “ethical guidelines” for the design of labor immigration programs into policy practice, we advocate new types of temporary foreign worker programs. In contrast to many existing and past guest worker policies, the programs that we propose would more actively promote the interests of migrant workers and sending countries by more clearly defining, and more effectively enforcing, certain core rights of migrant workers.For their helpful comments, we would like to thank Manolo Abella, Rainer Bauböck, Thomas Bräuninger, Wayne Cornelius, Clare Fox, David Heer, Jessica Heynis, Robert Holton, Eddie Hyland, Miles Kahler, Alan Kessler, Christian Klamler, Christoph Kuzmics, Phil Martin, Gail McElroy, Robert McLaughlin, Onora O'Neill, Nalini Persram, Thomas Pogge, Carlos Rodriguez, Robert Rowthorn, John Sender, Patrick Taran, Takeyuki Tsuda, Patrick Weil, two anonymous referees, and especially the editors of this journal. Martin Ruhs gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Cambridge European Trust, the Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust, the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego, and the Policy Institute at Trinity College Dublin. Most of this article was written while Martin Ruhs was a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Cambridge, and a Visiting Research Fellow at both the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego, and the Policy Institute at Trinity College Dublin. Ha-Joon Chang wishes to thank the Korea Research Foundation for its research support through the BK21 program at the Department of Economics, Korea University, where he was a Visiting Research Professor when the manuscript was completed.

Research Article
© 2004 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

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