Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Ethics of Labor Immigration Policy

  • Martin Ruhs (a1) and Ha-Joon Chang (a2)

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.

Hide All


Adelman, Irma, and J. Edward Taylor. 1990. Is Structural Adjustment with a Human Face Possible? The Case of Mexico. Journal of Development Studies 26 (3):387407.
Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Avineri, Shlomo, and Avner de-Shalit, eds. 1992. Communitarianism and Individualism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bean, Frank D., et al. 1988. Undocumented Mexican Immigrants and the Earnings of Other Workers in the United States. Demography 25 (1):3552.
Beitz, Charles. 1983. Cosmopolitan Ideals and National Sentiment. The Journal of Philosophy 80 (10):591600.
Borjas, George J. 1995. The Economic Benefits from Immigration. Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (2):322.
Borjas, George J. 2001. Does Immigration Grease the Wheels of the Labour Market? Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 1:69133.
Borjas, George J., Richard B. Freeman, Lawrence F. Katz. 1997. How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labour Market Outcomes? Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 1:190.
Caney, Simon. 1998. Cosmopolitanism, Realism and the National Interest. In The Legal and Moral Aspects of International Trade, edited by Geraint Parry, Asif Qureshi, and Hillel Steiner, 2944. London: Routledge.
Card, David. 1990. The Impact of the Mariel Boatlift on the Miami Labor Market. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 43 (2):24557.
Card, David. 2001. Immigrant Inflows, Native Outflows, and the Local Labour Market Impacts of Higher Immigration. Journal of Labor Economics 19 (1):2264.
Carens, Joseph H. 1987. Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders. The Review of Politics 49 (2):25173.
Carens, Joseph H. 1996. Realistic and Idealistic Approaches to the Ethics of Migration. International Migration Review 30 (1):15670.
Chandavarkar, Anand G. 1980. Use of Migrants' Remittances in Labour-Exporting Countries. Finance & Development 17 (2):3639.
Chang, Ha-Joon. 2002. Breaking the Mould: An Institutionalist Political Economy Alternative to the Neo-liberal Theory of the Market and the State. Cambridge Journal of Economics 26 (5):53959.
Chang, Ha-Joon, and Robert Rowthorn. 1995. Introduction. In The Role of the State in Economic Change, edited by Ha-Joon Chang and Robert Rowthorn, 127. Oxford: Clarendon.
Cohen, Marshall. 1984. Moral Skepticism and International Relations. Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (4):299346.
Davis, Donald R., and David E. Weinstein. 2002. Technological Superiority and the Losses from Migration. Working Paper 8971. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Desai, Mihir, Devesh Kapur, and John McHale. 2001. The Fiscal Impact of the Brain Drain: Indian Emigration to the U.S. Paper presented at the Third Annual NBER-NCAER Conference, December, Neemrana Fort Palace, India.
Espenshade, Thomas J., and Vanessa King. 1994. State and Local Fiscal Impacts of United States Immigrants: Evidence from New Jersey. Population Research and Policy Review 13 (3):22556.
Filer, Randall K. 1992. The Effects of Immigrant Arrivals on Migratory Patterns of Native Workers. In Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, edited by George Borjas and Richard Freeman, 24569. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Fitzgerald, David. 2000. Negotiating Extra-Territorial Citizenship: Mexican Migration and the Transnational Politics of Community. CCIS Monograph. San Diego: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California at San Diego.
Fix, Michael, and Jeffrey S. Passel. 1994. Immigration and Immigrants: Setting the Record Straight. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.
Freeman, Gary. 1995. Modes of Immigration Politics in Liberal Democratic States. International Migration Review 29 (4):881902.
Goodin, Robert E. 1988. What Is So Special About Our Fellow Countrymen? Ethics 98 (4):66386.
Hamilton, Bob, and John Whalley. 1984. Efficiency and Distributional Implications of Global Restrictions on Labour Mobility: Calculations and Policy Implications. Journal of Development Economics 14 (1–2):6175.
Hanson, Gordon, and Antonio Spilimbergo. 2001. Political Economy, Sectoral Shocks, and Border Enforcement. Canadian Journal of Economics 34 (3):61238.
Hausman, Daniel M., and Michael S. McPherson. 1993. Taking Ethics Seriously: Economics and Contemporary Moral Philosophy. Journal of Economic Literature 31 (2):671731.
Hunt, Jennifer. 1992. The Impact of the 1962 Repatriates from Algeria on the French Labour Market. Industrial and Labour Relations Review 45 (3):55672.
Jacobsen, David. 1996. Rights Across Borders: Immigration and the Decline of Citizenship. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Joppke, Christian. 1998. Why Liberal States Accept Unwanted Immigration. World Politics 50 (2): 26693.
Jordens, Ann-Mari. 1997. Alien to Citizen: Settling Migrants in Australia, 1945–75. St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin.
Kindleberger, Charles. 1967. Europe's Postwar Growth: The Role of Labour Supply. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
King, Timothy. 1983. Immigration from Developing Countries: Some Philosophical Issues. Ethics 93 (3):52536.
Klekowski, Amanda. 2001. The Role of Regional Consultative Processes in Managing International Migration. Migration Research Series 3. Geneva: International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Kymlicka, Will. 2002. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Martin, Philip. 2000. Guest Worker Programs for the 21st Century. Backgrounder, April, Washington, D.C.: Center for Immigration Studies.
Martin, Philip, and Martin Teitelbaum. 2001. The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers. Foreign Affairs 80 (6):11731.
Morgenthau, Hans. 1951. In Defense of the National Interest: A Critical Examination of American Foreign Policy. New York: Knopf.
Mulhall, Stephen, and Adam Swift. 1992. Liberals and Communitarians. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Nayyar, Deepak. 1994. Migration, Remittances and Capital Flows: The Indian Experience. Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.
Noiriel, Gérard. 1996. The French Melting Pot: Immigration, Citizenship, and National Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Nozick, Robert. 1974. Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books.
Nussbaum, Martha, et al. 1996. For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism. Boston: Beacon Press.
Nye, Joseph S. 2000. Understanding International Conflicts, 3d ed. New York: Longman.
Nye, Joseph S. 2002. The American National Interest and Global Public Goods. International Affairs 78 (2): 23344.
O'Neill, Onora. 2000. Bounds of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O'Neill, Onora. 2002. Global Justice: Whose Obligations? Talk given at the launch of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, 23 May, Birmingham, England. Available at 〈〉. Accessed 20 June 2003.
Pope, David, and Glenn Withers. 1993. Do Migrants Rob Jobs? Lessons of Australian History, 1861–1991. Journal of Economic History 53 (4):71942.
Rawls, John. 1985. Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical. Philosophy and Public Affairs 14 (3):22351.
Rodrik, Dani. 2002. Feasible Globalizations. Working Paper 9129. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Roy, Arun S. 1997. Job Displacement Effects of Canadian Immigrants by Country of Origin and Occupation. International Migration Review 31 (1):15061.
Ruhs, Martin. 2003. Temporary Foreign Worker Programs: Policies, Adverse Consequences, and the Need to Make Them Work. Perspectives on Labor Migration 6. International Migration Program. Geneva: International Labour Office.
Russel, Sharon. 1986. Remittances from International Migration: A Review in Perspective. World Development 14 (6):67796.
Scheffler, Samuel, ed. 1988 Consequentialism and Its Critics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schuck, Peter H. 1998. Citizens, Strangers, and In-Betweens: Essays on Immigration and Citizenship. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development As Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shue, Henry. 1988. Mediating Duties. Ethics 98 (4):687704.
Sidgwick, Henry. 1908. The Elements of Politics, 3d ed. London: Macmillan.
Stalker, Peter. 1994. The Work of Strangers: A Survey of International Labour Migration. Geneva: International Labour Office.
Sykes, Alan. 1995. The Welfare Economics of Immigration Law. In Justice in Immigration, edited by Warren Schwartz, 158200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taran, Patrick. 2000. Human Rights of Migrants: Challenges of the New Decade. International Migration 38 (6):752.
Taylor, J. Edward. 1999. The New Economics of Labour Migration and the Role of Remittances in the Migration Process. International Migration Review 37 (1):6388.
Taylor, J. Edward, Joaquin Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Douglas S. Massey, and Adela Pellegrino. 1996. International Migration and National Development. Population Index 62 (2):181212.
Trefler, Daniel. 1997. Immigrants and Natives in General Equilibrium Trade Models. Working Paper 6209. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2002. Refugees and Others of Concern to UNHCR, 2000 Statistical Overview. Geneva: UNHCR. Available at 〈〉. Accessed 20 June 2003.
United Nations Population Division (UNPOP). 2002. International Migration Report 2002 (ST/ESA/SER.A/220). New York: UNPOP. Available at 〈〉. Accessed 20 June 2003.
Walker, Robert, Mark Ellis, and Richard Barff. 1992. Linked Migration Systems: Immigration and Internal Labour Flows in the United States. Economic Geography 68 (3):23448.
Watts, Julie R. 2000. An Unconventional Brotherhood: Union Support for Liberalized Immigration in Europe. CCIS Monograph. San Diego: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California at San Diego.
Weber, René, and Thomas Straubhaar. 1996. Immigration and the Public Transfer System: Some Empirical Evidence for Switzerland. Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv 132 (2):33055.
Weinstein, Eric. 2001. Migration for the Benefit of All: Towards a New Paradigm for Migrant Labor. International Migration Paper 40. Geneva: International Labour Office (ILO).
Wright, Richard A., Mark Ellis, and Michael Reibel. 1997. The Linkage Between Immigration and Internal Migration in Large Metropolitan Areas in the United States. Economic Geography 73 (2):23454.
Zlotnik, Hania. 1998. International Migration 1965–96: An Overview. Population and Development Review 24 (3):42968.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed