The Evolution of Temporary Working Visa Programs: A Historical Perspective and Contemporary Challenges


From the ancient time, it has been common that people move to another place for labour to support the economy of the area. Sometimes, it occurred non-voluntarily like African slavery labour in southern states of the United States of America. And sometimes, it was voluntary labour to find new opportunities in their life. For instance, Chinese migrant labour in Australia in 1854 (Clarke 2002). However, in capitalism societies, migrant labour movement shows different trends, such as there are less forcing the labour force, except flesh traffic case in certain industry, to commit migration to another country, but the legal position that migrant labour staying has been a controversial issue, which means comparing with the earlier capitalism era, awareness of condition of the migrant labour have been increased. One of the reasons might be the increase of awareness of human right, and understanding about capitalism society by information exchange.

This essay would research the role of local government policies about temporary working visa programs, and labour market deregulation trend. It will detect correlation of the three entitles, migrant labour, government, and business, in the temporary working visa system to answer main questions.


1.Government registered Temporary working visa program

Running temporary working visa (TWV) program by local government has approximately a historical background of 50 years. According to Philip Martin (2006), TWV program stated Mexico-US Bracero programs in 1942. It was a macro guest worker program between the US and Mexico. There are several different forms of TWV program, such as Macro Guest Worker Programs, Micro Guest Worker Program (H-2A/B, AND H1B in the US), and Seasonal Worker Program (mainly short term agricultural worker program in Canada, UK, and Australia). It is widely running for industry that has a labour shortage (Martin 2006). From Martin (2006), each program has its own rules, thus causing difficulty to the government management. Still there are people arguing about the cost and benefit of the worker program. But basically, each program designed by requirement of each industry. In Australia 457 visa program case, it recently started form 1996, under the John Howard government era (Migration Blog 2011). It requests that Australian employer’s sponsorship and employee’s qualification of the field.

1.1 Economical, and Historical Background

It is not too complicated to assume what kind of benefits can be added in the TWV program. As per the historical records, there always have been labour classes, slavery classes, for their masters in each civilization. However, capitalist society has been organised by different forms of human labour force, which did not require feudal lord’s total responsibility to maintain basic life, necessary of serfs, such as house, food, and clothes. It is a labour system that pays wage to the working class, and there would be no more responsibility as an employer. As much as decreased master, employer’s responsibility, it increases profit, which is the main aim of the employer’s business in a manufacturing capitalism era.

The reactions of the new system, capitalism, were sometimes, demonstrations, unionization of labour class, and revolutions in some cases. However, the way to accumulate capital, reducing labour costs or exploitation of surplus value, has been developed after 30 years of capitalism gold era. Neo Liberalism lead new trend of labour cost reduction, that changed form of employment, which has a less worker’s right, but still works in the same process. It is called casual position, part-time job, and temporary position in a work place. It has more efficiency, because, from the employer’s perspective, they do not need to provide basic welfare, such as retirement allowance, and getting benefits using non-unionised labour force, easy hire and fire.

The exploitation trend continued for migration of labour. In human history, there were immigrations in the ancient time, and even in the imperialism era, but the form of the immigration was permanent immigration, which means if the labours settle in the new country, they work as a proper worker without concerning about their working conditions. For example, African slavery in the cotton farm in the southern states of the United States.

However, the TWV program has a character of the two elements, which are labour exploitation, and labour migration. In a history of immigration perspective, it has a unique controlling character that local government or employer gives a job opportunity to an employee, only in certain periods, using legal authority. And surprisingly, it is processing voluntary. Karl Marx separated the concept of labour force and labour itself. The TWV program tends to separately use labour force and labour. It means effectively maximising labour force, and minimise labour right.

Form of employment transferred to time period in the TWV program case. But the power structure is same or, in some sense, stronger than before, because local employer has an absolute power to maintain employee’s TW visa.

1.2 Temporary Skilled Labour Migrant

As compared to other migrant programs, temporary labour migration program has a certain key feature, which is “residence and employment on the basis of a temporary work permit alone does not create an entitlement to stay permanently in the host country” (p9 RUHS 2006). However, Martin RUHS states that there are some possibilities to grant permanent residency in some cases. Therefore, Martin explains that “the granting of permanent residence for migrants on temporary work permits remains at the discretion of the host state” (p9 RUHS 2006). It means that the TWV is temporary host state, government’s permission is required to work in the host state.

Also, Martin states that the TWV program is bilateral recruitment agreement or MOUs between two counties. Furthermore, the program required skill, necessarily in the industries for applying.

2. Labour Market Change

There would be a labour market change, causing by TWV program adoption. This chapter would be researching the local employment market and social effect, and analysing entities that get the main benefits from the TWV program with empirical evidences.

2.1 Latent immigration program? Trend increased the application of permanent residency visa

In spite of Martin Ruhs’s definition of TWV program, there are trends that increase permanent residency application in the host state. After finished contract, the migration labour that has a TW visa tend to stay in the host county, and apply for permanent residency (Ruhs, 2006). According to Martin Ruhs (2006), one of the examples that TWV worker staying in the host country might be German TWV program case, ‘Gastarbeiter’, and US ‘Bracero’ program case. In both cases, the programs have resulted to create 4.4 million resident foreign labour in Germany and 11million resident foreign undocumented labour in the United States (Passel 2005, Ruhs 2006).

2.2 Local labour market deregulation effect.

There are no official government records about labour market reregulation plan, but academic research proved that the TWV program significantly affected the host country’s labour market (Campbell, and Tham, 2014). From Campbell, and Tham’s work (2014), 457 sponsorship visa programs deregulated Australian labour market under the coalition Government (1996-2007). It became a subject of re-regulation under the current Labour Government (2007-2014). The 457 visa programs reduced local labour’s job opportunity, and because of working condition of 457 holders, and wage level, it indirectly reduces the real income level to 457 visa holders and local labour force respectively that could not get the job opportunity.

2.3 Multicultural Society

Issuing temporary working visa is not the end of the process. There must be a social supporting system to settle the migrant labour force to host country. One of the policies supporting the TWV programs might be the multicultural society policies. It is important because without such a multicultural background, TWV program might be a cause of racial discrimination, behaviours and sometimes, violence to the foreign labour. Common example might be Germany and Britain case. From Christian Joppke’s work (1996), in Germany case, Multiculturalism accepted a reflection of Nazi German era, and interestingly, in British case, it related with the British Empire heritage, which caused a multi ethnic group of labour immigration after World War 2.

2.4 Structural exploitation system

There were many people arguing about TWV worker’s right. In Marxian perspective, the TWV program has a certain character of labour exploitation concept. Because there are obvious beneficiaries, who are in strong position in the contract and in weak position as well. Due to employer would be a main beneficiary of the TWV program, some case, TWV program provided place for labour exploitation, especially, employers who do not have a political consciousness or who has the same ethnic background.

There is no symmetrical research, but from personal experience, it commonly occurred, especially, if the Australian employers are also immigrants, from the less human right concerned countries, which do not have a strong social concern about labour right. There are high possibilities that TWV program would be another type of legal exploitation system. For instance, many employers ask some kind of advance before starting the TWV program or paid wage that bellowed minimum wage during the period (2 years). And even TWV holders get permanent residency, employers can ask working for a longer period (3 years more) with same kind of working conditions, i.e. with lower wage and overtime working without extra payment.

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2.5 Who will be the main benefiters in this system?

Local labour would be the main entities that harm their interests. They would lose chance to find a job, and lose strong position in payment negotiations. And it is not a surprise that local labours believe that migration labour programs are conspiracy of employers. However, in TWV labour case, it might be misunderstood. Because, TWV programs targeted industries, and businesses that cannot find temporary labour force or local labour do not want to work or could not work in the profession.

TWV labour would be an entity that would want to and be ready to work in a foreign country. It might be an opportunity for them to work in an industry in an advanced country. Because, there are three points that they can get. First one is they would work in a better working condition as compared with the same industry in their county, it will be a good work experience, and TWV program might be a chance to immigrate.

Local business and Local Corporation are the main benefiters of the program, because they are able to hire labour force that cannot be found in the local labour market with more controlling power, sponsorship of the employee’s visa. If they hired employees who do not understand about their right, it might be a secure, and convenience labour force for their business.

3. Government can ignore citizen’s right?

It is always a controversial issue in the TWV program about the role of local government, because the TWV program damaged interest, and right of local labour class from a taxpayer’s perspective. Without concern about the fact that TWV holder has a high possibility to immigrate host country, it would reduce job opportunities in the employment market for a long term. One example might be two main Australian union’s announcement about Government registration plan for 457 visa (CFMEU. 2015 and ACTU. 2015)

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3.1 Democratic Societies

Government has a difficult position in all working visa programs, because government has to make a balance between industrial need and citizen’s job security. The main political press might be an election. All democratically elected governments should concern about winning elections for maintaining their political power. As we observe in the previous paragraph, if the visa programs have been believed in reducing local labour’s benefits, it would not be good a political choice to register with the working visa program.

However, it is hard to ignore industrial need for economy growth. It is obvious that importing cheap and skilled labour force, part of deregulation policies of labour market, would be necessary for industries and local business, if it were hard to find suitable labour inside the country. And the best way might be running such a temporary working visa program. Because the TWV program has a certain controlling mechanism, such as the visa holders should have a skill that industry required and it is a temporary working permission.

In democratic society, political leaders are always concerned about the elections. People prefer to a government that increases economic growth, and at the same time, they want to secure their jobs. If government concerns only for one side, it would increase their political risk. As a result, it is hard to prove that government is an entity that get main benefits form the TWV program.

3.2 Elected power and non-elected power

The idea that small government is a common agenda in liberalism and neo classical economy school (Krusell and Ríos-Rull 1999). These schools tend to shrink pessimistic role of government and increase importance of the business. So it has been the social, and economical trend that businesses get more liberty. However, there are people arguing about role, and difference of local government and International Corporation’s interest. Ha-Joon Chang states that shareholder has less responsibility for a corporation, because they can easily sale stocks and leave the corporation (Chang 2012). Also, from the labour class perspective, government is an elected power, which is able to control under citizen’s suffrages. But corporation is not an elected power, which is not able to control. Which means if citizens agree, government would change their policies. Therefore, it is not logical that government, that represents people, would want to deregulate their labour market that will reduce local labour’s right.

3.3 Powers Shipped to Market

Then argument should develop which entities would get main benefit throughout the TWV program, because the main benefiter might be a hidden subjective of the labour market deregulation issue. The question that is supposed to ask in this essay would be ‘why is the increase of labour market flexibility important? And who are forcing the policy for local government?’.

It has been proved that ‘Washington consensus’ caused the deregulation including labour market flexibility condition (Williamson. 2004). One example might be the IMF suggestions to the Korean Government during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis that increased the labour market flexibility (Sharma, 2003). Therefore, it is more logical that government registered such a temporary labour migration program, because of external press, which is building process of stockholder centred economy system, increasing the dividend that the corporations paid, and concern only about short term results. For only increasing short term dividends, reducing labour cost is necessary. Efficient method to reduce labour cost is substituted labour force from organised labour with full worker’s right to less or non-organised labour with no worker’s right. And labour market deregulation might be the best policy for the vision.

To sum up, government deregulates labour market for increase labour market flexibility. However, it does not mean local labours and government would get benefits from the labour market reforms. It is more reasonable to assume that may be capital would get main benefits from deregulation.


It was a local government that registered TWV program. However, there were literature evidences that transnational organization forces local government to provide the TWV program as a part of their international economic reform program from the Korean government case during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Also the conclusion is able to re-proved by its result, which means TWV program does not benefit the local labour class and even the government. Because the side effects of the program, such as TW visa holder extend staying in the host country and apply immigration visas Like German and US case, government has full responsibility to manage the cases.

However, it is obvious that capital would get main benefits from the TWV programs. Because, with the TWV program, labour market flexibility policy would be a basement of capital’s international exploitation system, which can find their policies in the Washington Consensus concept.

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