Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) is one of only a handful of migration schemes globally that maintains the explicit objective of contributing to the economic development of labor-sending countries. The link between migration and development has long been recognized and evaluated, but only recently has it been formalized in the global development agenda. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development consists of 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at eliminating extreme poverty and ensuring sustainable development. Several of these mention migrants or migration (IOM 2017). Seasonal migration programs have been widely adopted globally since the introduction of the Bracero program in the United States in the 1940s and the Gastarbeiter program in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1950s. While their aim has been primarily focused on plugging seasonal labor shortages, a new wave of programs (including Australia’s SWP) have broadened the focus to incorporate a development objective.
The seasonal worker program (SWP) was formally introduced in 2012 following a four-year pilot scheme. The program maintains the dual objectives of:
(i) contributing to the economic development of nine participating Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste; and
(ii) filling labor shortages in the Australian agriculture sector, accommodation sector (in selected locations), and tourism sector (the Northern Australia tourism pilot).
This paper assesses the first of these objectives, evaluating the impact of the SWP on workers, their households, and communities. In doing so, it aims to build on the evidence already collected on the development impacts of the Pacific seasonal worker pilot scheme and shed further light on how the program can be improved to increase the benefits flowing through to the Pacific region.