The long-term consequences of a temporary worker program: The US Bracero experience

Research paper by Douglas S. Massey, Zai Liang

Indexed on: 01 Sep '89Published on: 01 Sep '89Published in: Population research and policy review


Recent changes enacted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) create the potential for two large temporary worker programs, one constructed from the existing H-2 program and the other an outgrowth of IRCA's amnesty provisions. Prior experience with guestworker programs in Europe and the United States suggests, however, that temporary labor migration ultimately will engender a flow of immigration substantially in excess of the number of temporary visas originally allocated. In this paper, we outline a theoretical rationale to explain this observation and test it using microdata gathered from former participants in the Bracero Program, a US-sponsored temporary worker program that ran from 1942 to 1964. Our results indicate that bracero migrants were very likely to make repeated trips, both with and without legal documents; that they were quite likely to introduce their sons and daughters into migratory careers; and that they were eventually likely to settle in the United States in substantial numbers. We argue that, in the long run, there is no such thing as a temporary worker program.