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Liberal Ideals and Political Feasibility: Guest-Worker Programs as Second-Best Policies

19 Pages Posted: 23 May 2002  

Howard F. Chang

University of Pennsylvania Law School


From the perspective of the economic interests of natives, guest-worker programs may be an optimal response to concerns regarding the fiscal impact of unskilled alien workers. Through such programs, natives enjoy the benefits of these workers in the labor market but do not bear the fiscal burden of providing the full set of public benefits that these workers would receive if they had ready access to permanent residence and, ultimately, citizenship. From the perspective of liberal principles of justice, however, the ideal would be access to citizenship, and guest-worker programs are only second-best policies. As long as natives are unwilling to bear the fiscal burdens that more liberal policies would entail, however, access to permanent residence will remain limited. Given these constraints of political feasibility, a liberalized guest-worker policy would represent a worthwhile improvement over the status quo, whether from the perspective of natives, aliens, or cosmopolitan liberalism.

JEL Classification: J00

Suggested Citation

Chang, Howard F., Liberal Ideals and Political Feasibility: Guest-Worker Programs as Second-Best Policies. North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, Vol. 27, No. 3, 2002. Available at SSRN: or

Howard Chang (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

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