Development as Remittances or Development as Freedom? Exploring Canada's Temporary Migration Programs from a Rights-based Approach

AuthorKerry Preibisch
Development as Remittances or
Development as Freedom?
Exploring Canada’s Temporary
Migration Programs from a
Rights-based Approach
A. Introduction
Every year, some 40,000 men and women from more than seventy
countries across the world enter Canada on temporary employment
authorizations to work in the country’s agri-food industries. This
particular type of labour mobility is part of a growing global trend
towards temporary and seasonal migration within immigration and
citizenship policies. The re-emergence and rise of guest worker pro-
grams worldwide since the 1990s is supported by a policy discourse
that portrays government-controlled temporary labour migration as
delivering a “triple win” scenario: migrant-receiving countries can
respond f‌lexibly to labour demand using a regularized workforce
while limiting permanent immigration; migrants can travel safely
across borders to access higher wages and contribute to the well-
being of their households; and sending countries benef‌it from the
remittances their citizens send home and the skills they acquire
abroad.1 In particular, a consensus has emerged within policy circles
1 Xinying Chi, “Challenging Managed Temporary Labor Mig ration as a Model for
Rights and Development for Labor-Sending Countries” (2008) 40 NYUJ Int’l L &
Pol’y 49 [Chi]; Nicola Piper, “All Quiet on the Eastern Front?—Temporary Contract
Migration in Asia Revisited From a Development Perspective” (2010) 29 Policy and
Society 399; Martin Ruhs & Philip Martin, “Number s vs. Rights: Trade-Offs and
Guest Worker Programs” (2008) 42 International Migration Review 249 [Ruhs &
Martin, “Numbers vs. Rights”].
Kerry Preibisch
Kerry Preibisch82
that temporary migration programs contribute to economic develop-
ment in sending countries.2 Contributing to this discourse at the
global level is the framing of Canada’s guest worker arrangements
as offering models or “tools” for fostering development and as part
of Canada’s foreign aid efforts, alongside continued references to the
wage differentials between Canada and migrant-sending countries.3
While Canada’s temporary migration programs (TMPs) certainly pro-
vide workers in low-income countries access to the labour market
of a high-income country and the potential to develop new skills, a
growing body of scholarly literature suggests that the opportunities
provided through labour migration to Canadian agriculture come at
signif‌icant cost to migrants’ freedom, security, and human dignity.4
The academic literature, along with scores of policy-oriented docu-
ments, media reports, and other resources, has brought to light the
2 Chi, ibid.
3 Sedef Arat-Koc, “In the Privacy of Our Own Home: Foreign D omestic Workers as
Solution to the Crisis in the Domestic Sphere in Canada” (1989) 28 Studies in Pol-
itical Economy 33; Foreign Agriculture Resource Management Services, Questions
and Answers (Mississauga: 2010) online:;
Ontario (AG) v Fraser, 2011 SCC 20 (Reply Factum of the Appellant—Charter s 15(1)).
4 Tanya Basok, Tortillas and Tomatoes: Transmigrant Mexican Harvesters in C anada
(Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) [Basok, Tortillas and Tomatoes];
Leigh Binford, “Contract Labor in Canada and the United States: A Critical Appre-
ciation of Tanya Basok’s Tortillas and Tomatoes: Transmigrant Mexican Harvesters
in Canada” (2004) 29 Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
289 [Binford, “Contract Labour”]; Kerr y Preibisch & Evelyn Encalada Grez, “The
Other Side of ‘El Otro Lado’: Mexican Migrant Women and Labor Flexibility in
Canadian Agriculture” (2010) 35 Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society
289 [Preibisch & Encalada Grez, “The Other Side”]; Kerry Preibisch, “Migrant Agr i-
cultural Workers and Processes of Social Inclusion in Rural Canada: Encuentros
and Desencuentros” (2004) 29 Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean
Studies 203 [Preibisch, “Migrant Agricultural Workers”]; Tanya Basok, “Mexican
Seasonal Migration to Canada and Development: A Community-based Compariso n”
(2003) 41 International Migration 3 [Basok, “Mexican Seasonal Migration”]; Jenna
Hennebry & Kerry Preibisch, “Deconstr ucting Managed Migration’s Model: A
Critical Look at Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program” (Paper delivered
at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Sociological Association (CSA), Vancou-
ver, 2008); Janet McLaughlin, “Classifying the Ideal Migrant Worker: Mexican and
Jamaican Transnational Farmworkers in Canada” (2010) Focaal 79 [McLaughlin,
“Classifying”]; Jenna Hennebr y, “Not Just a Few Bad Apples: Vulnerability, Health
and Temporary Migration in Canada” (Spring 2010) Canadian Issues / Thèmes cana-
diens 73 [Hennebry, “Bad Apples”].

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