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migrant labour

  Workers who migrate in order to find employment. migration may be temporary or permanent and over long or short distances, often involving movement across international frontiers. There are many examples in the contemporary world of economies which have come to rely to a significant extent upon migrant labour. Historically the movement of labour has been crucial to economic growth and cultural change.

Two aspects are important to understanding the distinction between migrant labour and other types of migration. First, for the individual migrant the principal motivation is economic, the search for a better wage and more secure employment. While much migrant labour involves the temporary movement of individuals, more mature streams may lead to permanent settlement of migrants and their families, not least through the process of chain migration — both women and men play leading roles in stimulating such migrant flows. Thus, migrant labour often becomes a permanent part of the labour force at the point of destination, sometimes indistinguishable from the population at large or, particularly with culturally distinct international migrations, forming distinct ethnic groups (see ethnicity). Second, migrant labour may be seen in a wider economic structural context — e.g. in the development of capitalism and dependence and the changing division of labour.

Since capitalist development is uneven in both time and space, mobility of the labouring population in, for example, nineteenth-century Great Britain was essential for the continuing development of industrialization and urbanization (see uneven development). Similarly, in north-west Europe after the Second World War, migrant labour became an essential part of economic growth and of urban and industrial concentration and centralization. Thus, countries like the UK, France and West Germany came to rely increasingly upon labour from southern Europe and from the Third World: the UK from the West Indies and South Asia; France from Italy, Spain and Portugal (the figure shows the long-term emigration from Portugal) and from North Africa; West Germany from Greece and Turkey (see Gastarbeiter). Equally, in the USA, comparable migration flows came from Mexico and the Caribbean. Labour migrants are found in many other parts of the world and in varying circumstances, e.g. seasonal or periodic migrants in West Africa find employment in both agriculture and industry. Migrant labour was an important feature of the South African economy under apartheid. Workers were drawn into \'white\' South Africa from the black \'Homelands\' on year-long contracts. One advantage of this system, from the perspective of the South African government and relevant capitalists, was that, as elsewhere, the receiving territory was relieved of some of the costs of production and reproduction of the labour which it used, as such costs were borne in the territory of origin where families remained. Migrant labour has been subject to increasing state control in most countries and migration policy has frequently proved controversial.

In summarizing the current state of global migration trends and the likely prospects for the immediate future, Castles and Miller (1993, p. 8) have suggested four principal trends. First, the globalization of migration refers to the tendency for more and more countries to be affected by migration. A greater diversity of origins means that countries are drawing immigrants from a broad spectrum of economic, social and cultural backgrounds. Second, the acceleration of migration — the fact that the volume of movement is increasing in almost all major regions — poses problems for government policies. Third, the differentiation of migration indicates that most countries have a broad range of migration movements, not just labour migration. And finally, the feminization of migration draws attention to the fact that women play an increasing role in all regions and all types of migration, including labour flows. (PEO)

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migrant labour Emigration from Portugal, 1855 to 1988 (Rallu and Blum, 1991)

References Castles, S. and Miller, M.J. 1993: The age of migration: international population movements in the modern world. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Rallu, J.-L. and Blum, A., eds, 1991: European population 1. Country analysis. London: John Libbey, 396.

Suggested Reading Chant, S., ed., 1992: Gender and migration in developing countries. London: Belhaven. Cohen, R. 1987: The new helots. Migrants in the international division of labour. Aldershot: Gower. Cohen, R., ed., 1995: The Cambridge survey of world migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hatton, T.J. and Williamson, J.G., eds, 1994: Migration and the international labor market, 1850-1939. London and New York: Routledge. King, R., ed., 1993: Mass migrations in Europe. The legacy and the future. London: Belhaven. Miles, R. 1982: Racism and migrant labour. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Sassen, S. 1988: The mobility of labor and capital. A study in international investment and labor flow. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Skeldon, R. 1997: Migration and development: a global perspective. Harlow: Longman.



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