Pacific labour mobility

Labour mobility is key to the future of many Pacific island countries, and is an important research focus of Devpolicy.

Our work in this area is highlighted on the Devpolicy Blog (see here), as well as through our monthly labour mobility and migration newsletter (see the ‘Newsletters’ tab above, or sign up here). Discussion papers, reports, and Devpolicy submissions to government inquiries on labour mobility can be viewed in the ‘Publications’ tab.

Devpolicy also regularly hosts events on labour mobility, such as the launch of the World Bank report on Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program. For upcoming events, see here. Podcasts of past events can be accessed here.

Discussion papers

DP 70 What can Papua New Guinea do to lift its numbers in the seasonal worker programs of Australia and New Zealand?
Richard Curtain, September 2018
» view publication at SSRN
» read blog

DP 65 Backpackers v seasonal workers: learning from the contrasting temporary migration outcomes in Australian and New Zealand horticulture
Richard Curtain, Matthew Dornan, Stephen Howes and Henry Sherrell, November 2017
» view publication at SSRN
» read blog

DP 56 Migration and labour mobility from Kiribati
Carmen Voigt-Graf and Sophia Kagan, March 2017
» view publication at SSRN

DP 34 Skill development and regional mobility: lessons from the Australia-Pacific Technical College
Michael A. Clemens, Colum Graham and Stephen Howes, May 2014
» view publication at SSRN
» read blog

DP 17 Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme: why has take-up been so low?
Danielle Hay and Stephen Howes, April 2012
» view publication at SSRN
» read blog


A pressure release valve? Migration and climate change in Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu
Richard Curtain and Matthew Dornan, February 2019
» download PDF
» read blog

Analysing Pacific labour mobility: Devpolicy Blogs 2017-18
September 2018
» download PDF

Pacific Possible – Labour mobility: the ten billion dollar prize
Richard Curtain, Matthew Dornan, Jesse Doyle and Stephen Howes, July 2016

This report looks at the issue of Pacific labour mobility from both sides of the equation. It seeks to understand the perspectives and concerns of both sending and receiving countries, and it proposes reforms for both sets of countries. The report places particular emphasis on providing opportunities for low-skilled and medium-skilled migration. A broad range of reforms is proposed, but is particularly focused on providing labour mobility opportunities for those beyond the elite of sending countries to maximise the welfare gains of migration, and to reduce the risk of brain drain. The report forms part of the World Bank’s Pacific Possible series.

» download full report
» download four-page summary
» read blog

Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program: demand-side constraints and suggested reforms
Jesse Doyle, The World Bank; and Stephen Howes, Development Policy Centre, February 2015

This paper reports on the results of a comprehensive survey of employers and industry bodies across the horticulture sector examining employers’ views of the Seasonal Worker Program, which permits workers from eight Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to work in Australia for a period of fourteen weeks to six months.

» view report [PDF, 1.2MB]
» read blog


Submission to the Working Holiday Reform, Senate Standing Economics Committee – Legislative inquiry
Stephen Howes and Henry Sherrell, October 2016

The Senate Standing Economics Committee inquired to the legislation concerning the backpacker tax and associated measures. This submission, authored by Stephen Howes and Henry Sherrell, argues reforms cannot be looked at in isolation. Seven recommendations are made, recognising the Working Holiday program is primarily a low-skilled labour migration program, with reforms put forward to reduce the exploitation of backpackers, deliver fairness for seasonal workers, and foster additional Pacific labour mobility.

» view submission
» read blog

Submission to the Working Holiday Maker tax review
Stephen Howes, September 2016

In August 2016, the Deputy Prime Minister and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister announced a review into the terms of taxation for individuals in Australia on working holiday maker visas (417 and 462 visas). This submission, authored by Stephen Howes and based on two horticultural employer surveys, argues that reforms related to the working holiday maker (backpacker) tax cannot be looked at in isolation from other issues pertaining to Australia’s horticultural sector. Any reforms should serve to level the playing field for backpackers and seasonal workers. Three key recommendations are made: to apply the same tax rate to both groups; to level market testing requirements for both groups; and to require registration of employers and labour hire companies who hire backpackers and seasonal workers. The outcomes of the review were announced on 27 September 2016.

» view submission [PDF, 360 KB]
» read blog

Submission to the Inquiry into the Seasonal Worker Program
Stephen Howes and Jesse Doyle, July 2015

In May 2015, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection requested that the Joint Standing Committee on Migration inquire into and report on the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP). This joint submission, authored by Stephen Howes (Devpolicy Director) and Jesse Doyle (World Bank), presents evidence primarily from the perspective of Australian horticultural employers and makes eight recommendations for expanding the SWP. The committee’s final report was tabled on 5 May 2016 and is available here.

» view submission [PDF, 694KB]
» view submission annexes [PDF, 1488KB]

Labour mobility webinar series

Is mobile money changing rural Africa? Evidence from a field experiment
15 July 2020
Cátia Batista, Associate Professor of Economics, Nova School of Business and Economics

Migration and household finances: how a different framing can improve thinking about migration
10 June 2020
Timothy N. Ogden, Managing Director, Financial Access Initiative
» view presentation
» listen to the podcast

Migrant health workers are on the COVID-19 frontline: we need more of them
28 April 2020
Helen Dempster, Assistant Director and Senior Associate for Policy Outreach for the Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy Program, Center for Global Development, and Rebekah Smith, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development; Founder and Interim Director, Labor Mobility Partnerships (LaMP)
» view presentation
» watch the recording

Updated:  12 July 2020/Responsible Officer:  Devpolicy Admin/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team