International Handbook on Migration and Economic Development

International Handbook on Migration and Economic Development

Elgar original reference

Edited by Robert E.B. Lucas

This Handbook summarizes the state of thinking and presents new evidence on various links between international migration and economic development, with particular reference to lower-income countries. The connections between trade, aid and migration are critically examined through global case studies.

Chapter 7: Development through seasonal worker programs: the case of New Zealand’s RSE program

John Gibson and David McKenzie

Subjects: development studies, development economics, migration, economics and finance, development economics, politics and public policy, migration, urban and regional studies, migration


Seasonal worker programs are increasingly seen as offering the potential to be part of international development policy, in addition to the traditional goal of meeting domestic agricultural needs. New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) program is one of the first and most prominent of programs designed with this perspective. This chapter provides a detailed examination of this policy through the first six seasons. It begins by outlining the background to the launch of the program, and key features of how the program operates in practice. This includes the important role of policy facilitation measures taken by national governments and aid agencies. The evolution of the program in terms of worker numbers is then discussed, along with new data on the (high) degree of circularity in worker movements, and new data on (very low) worker overstay rates. This is followed by a summary of the impacts of the program on New Zealand workers and employers: there appears to have been little displacement of New Zealand workers, and new data shows RSE workers to be more productive than local labor, and that workers appear to gain productivity as they return for subsequent seasons. The program has also benefitted the migrants participating in the program, with increases in per capita incomes, expenditure, savings, and subjective well-being, with some evidence of small positive spillover benefits to their communities in the form of public goods. Taken together, this evidence suggests that the RSE program is largely living up to its promise of a “triple win” for migrants, their sending countries in the Pacific, and for New Zealand, and that it is one of the most successful development interventions for which rigorous evidence exists. As such, both development and immigration policy can benefit from learning the lessons of this program.

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