A Rejoinder to Ruhs

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Our paper in this issue sets out to do a simple task: to empirically evaluate the hypothesis of an inverse relationship between the number of low-skilled migrant workers and their rights using existing cross-national data. In his reply, Martin Ruhs argues that our criticism is unconvincing because our data on numbers do not adequately capture the object of his hypothesis—which refers to the rights of persons admitted with the primary purpose of employment—and because our data on rights also capture other dimensions of the conditions of migrants.

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The migration status of temporary migrant workers is often presented as a major determinant of labour rights and worker vulnerabilities. Using a sequential mixed method approach this article interrogates this proposition to examine the factors exacerbating temporary migrant worker exploitation within the Australian horticulture industry. The article finds that temporary migrants’ access to labour rights are shaped by their migration status. However, in contrast to prevalent assumptions, visa conditions play a preliminary, rather than a deterministic, role in this vulnerability. The article argues that notwithstanding the considerable links between vulnerability and migration status, changes in the political economy of Australian horticulture towards neoliberal or ‘pro-market governance’ arrangements have been central drivers of worker vulnerability. It focuses on three manifestations of these arrangements – the intensification of supply chain pressures, the emergence of labour market intermediaries, and the reduced presence of trade unions – as critical actors shaping temporary migrant worker agency.
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The recent evolution of asylum and refugee policies in developed countries has been characterised by two apparently contradictory dynamics. Efforts to limit the number of asylum applicants have coincided with the strengthening of rights for asylum seekers and refugees inside existing protection systems. The ‘numbers vs. rights’ model seeks to explain such counter-veiling trends as a trade-off, as the result of attempts to manage costs within given budget constraints. The model suggests that high numbers of migrants will tend to go hand in hand with attempts to restrict their rights, while low numbers will typically be associated with more rights. This paper provides a critical analysis of the model when applied to asylum and refugee policies and examines its explanatory purchase through the analysis of longitudinal data on visa and asylum statistics. We argue that while the model provides an interesting framework through which to analyse executive decisions in this field, it underestimates the opportunities and constraints provided by the institutional context in which policy choices are made. We argue that ‘over-time’ variation in the influence of non-majoritarian institutions (in Europe, increasingly those operating at the EU level) provide a more compelling account of the dynamics of asylum and refugee policies over time than the political economy predictions of a ‘number vs. rights’ trade-off.
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This paper explores the impacts of the rights of migrant workers ('migrant rights') on the human development of actual and potential migrants, their families, and other people in migrants' countries of origin. A key feature of the paper is its consideration of how migrant rights affect both the capability to move and work in higher income countries (i.e. the access of workers in low-income countries to labor markets of higher-income countries) and capabilities while living and working abroad. The paper suggests that there may be a trade-off between the number and some of the socio-economic rights of low-skilled migrant workers admitted to high-income countries, and explores the implications for human development.
My paper for this special issue (Ruhs, 2010), which builds on analysis in a previous paper with Phil Martin (Ruhs and Martin, 2008), suggests the hypothesis of a trade‐off (i.e. an inverse relationship) between the number and some of the socio‐economic rights of low‐skilled migrant workers admitted to high‐income countries. Ruhs (2010) discusses the economic factors and mechanisms that may give rise to such a trade‐off and presents several brief case studies that, I argue, provide some illustrative empirical support for the existence of a trade‐off. As I make clear in the conclusion, there is ‘clearly a need for more systematic empirical research that includes a larger number of countries and that investigates alternative explanations of the relationship between the number and rights of low‐skilled migrant workers admitted to high‐income countries’ (Ruhs, 2010, p. 276) The paper by Cummins and Rodríguez (C&R, 2010) aims to provide this systematic empirical analysis. C&R conclude that their statistical tests ‘do not on the whole support the existence of a numbers versus rights trade‐off in immigration policy’ (2010, p. 283). The authors emphasize that the measurement of migrant rights and immigration policies is still at a nascent stage and that future assessments and better data ‘could, in turn, lead us to re‐evaluate the conclusions presented in this paper’ (p. 298). I consider the analysis by C&R unconvincing as a systematic empirical test of the numbers versus rights hypothesis for two reasons, namely: their conceptualization and measurement of the number of migrant workers in the context of this debate, and the indices used to measure the rights of migrant workers. I conclude with an outline of the systematic empirical analysis needed to advance the debate.
Migrants' rights, immigration policy and human development', Human Development Research Paper No. 23, UNDP, Human Development Report OfficeNumbers versus rights in low-skilled labour immigration policy? A Comment on Cummins and Rodríguez
  • Ruhs
  • Martin
Ruhs, Martin. (2009) 'Migrants' rights, immigration policy and human development', Human Development Research Paper No. 23, UNDP, Human Development Report Office, New York. Ruhs, Martin (2010a) 'Numbers versus rights in low-skilled labour immigration policy? A Comment on Cummins and Rodríguez (2010)', Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 11(2), pp. 305–309.