Guest worker programs

The term “guest worker programs” is used for programs where people from other countries can work (with some restrictions) but are not granted the privileges associated with citizenship. Guest worker programs vary in the following respects:

  • The time duration of the program: Does the program last for a fixed number of years, or is it unlimited?
  • Flexibility in terms of the jobs: Are people tied to specific jobs, or can they switch jobs without having to re-apply for eligibility to the program? If they lose their job, how quickly do they need to find a new one?
  • Extent of legal rights: Can people avail of the legal and financial systems available to citizens?
  • Eligilibity for citizenship for guest workers and their children: Are there paths to citizenship for guest workers and their children?
  • Deportation conditions: Under what conditions may these workers be forcibly deported?
  • Eligibility for welfare benefits, (state-subsidized) schooling, and (emergency, state-subsidized) medical care.

The expansion of guest worker programs is one of the compromise solutions — in line with the idea of keyhole solutions — that open borders advocates may consider to meet restrictionist objections. Specifically, guest worker programs where the guest workers are not eligible for citizenship/voting rights or welfare benefits/subsidies can address part of the welfare objection and political externalities argument. If the guest worker programs also constrain people’s job options or job descriptions, they might also address some of the restrictionist arguments about suppression of wages of natives.

Most developed countries already have some form of guest worker programs. However, these programs are extremely limited in size compared to what a “market equilibrium” would support.

Reading material on guest worker programs

Below is some material on guest worker programs from a pro-open borders perspective:


There are many objections to guest worker programs. The most common objection is the second-class residents objection, which argues that there is something wrong with having different tiers or classes of people as far as legal status, political privileges, and welfare state benefits are concerned.

Real-world examples

  • Red Card, a proposal by the Krieble Foundation for the United States.