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Dialogue on Labour Mobility in North America

FOCAL and Metropolis

Publisher:  Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, USA
Year Published:  2009  
Pages:  28pp   Price:  Free download  

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  Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL)

Due to the increasing attention placed on security issues in North America, the perceived waning benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and heightened competition from Asia and Europe, policymakers and opinion leaders have stressed the need to revitalize the North American region. To do so, a search for new common areas of interest such as labour mobility is necessary. This is an area which could help balance the need for security with the need for prosperity and improvements to the quality of life in the three countries. The pledge between Canada and Mexico to exchange information on regulations, policies, temporary foreign worker programs, and integration strategies following the North American Leaders Summit of Montebello of 2007, as well as the creation of the Canada-Mexico Partnership (CNP), a bilateral working group which includes a cluster on labour mobility, both illustrate the significant level of political interest on this issue.

The decision to move in this direction can be explained, in part, by a desire to increase North American competitiveness in an increasingly interdependent world, as well as to foster prosperity by taking advantage of potential complementarities between their respective labour markets. While commerce among the three countries has grown exponentially since the entry into force of NAFTA on January 1, 1994, there is room for further progress. The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) builds on this trade relationship by providing Canada, Mexico and the United States with an institutionalized partnership that aims to build a safer and economically dynamic North America, while respecting the sovereignty, laws, unique heritage and culture of each country. Moreover, under the SPP, the three countries reiterated interest in maintaining an open dialogue with business leaders and other stakeholders of each country. Other important developments that have also drawn attention to labour mobility in North America. Demographic trends, such as an ageing population in Canada, and economic fluctuations are creating demand in some national labour markets that, in turn, accentuate the pull and push factors for the movement of people within North America. In Canada, the federal government has responded by streamlining the application process for employers to hire temporary foreign workers that work in occupations under pressure - for which there are over 100 in Alberta alone.

In this context, the International Metropolis Secretariat, (Citizenship and Immigration Canada), the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL), the Centro de Investigaciones sobre América del Norte (CISAN) at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services/Homeland Security organized an Expert Dialogue on Labour Mobility in Mexico City on June 23 and 24, 2008. The event - which invoked the Chatham House Rule4 - promoted dialogue between academics, experts and policy makers about labour mobility and migration in the North American context, and sought to identify effective practices in managing labour mobility. The dialogue also explored, in an academic setting, the opportunities and challenges of managing labour mobility in the context of the recently formed labour mobility working group between Canada and Mexico.

This report summarizes the highlights of these discussions, presents background context and identifies new research agendas on labour mobility. The report centers on four key questions:
1.What has worked effectively in the context of bilateral and trilateral (NAFTA) labour mobility frameworks?
2.Which challenges have arisen with these frameworks and what lessons can be drawn as Canada, the USA and Mexico (re)assess labour mobility?
3.Which new initiatives are being designed to minimize negative impacts and/or to maximize benefits of labour mobility, including potential development outcomes?
4.Which policy options should be considered in the North American region to address the human equation (such as measures for temporary migrant worker integration)?

The report is divided into three sections, corresponding to the three panel presentations and subsequent discussions that took place during the Expert Dialogue:
1) Observations on Labour Mobility and Migration in North America;
2) Current Initiatives and Effective Practices in Labour Mobility and Migration Management; and
3) Facilitating Integration into Destination Countries and Maximizing Development Potential of Migration.

A final section presents topics proposed by Dialogue Participants for a future North American research agenda on migration.

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