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1 OFII contracts and contratos en origen are two poorly known components of French and Spanish migration policy. Although the latter are a recent creation (2000), the former have been used to organise the arrival of nearly 4 million foreign farmworkers since 1945. While the economic crisis of the 1970s led to a decline in the implementation of policies for the importation of a temporary labour force, they made a comeback at the turn of the 21st century, promoted by international organisations as forms of mobility which are beneficial to all labour migration actors.

2 Our doctoral research focused on the mobilisation of Moroccan farmworkers, men and women, through these two temporary migration programmes (TMP), in the south of France and Spain respectively (Décosse, 2011; Hellio, 2014). This article, presented in three parts, takes a comparative look at two variations, at different periods, of the same utilitarian model of migrant labour force management.

3 First, we present the two case studies, outlining the way in which these migratory architectures are built on an interconnection between the domestic and rural economy in the country of origin, on the one hand, and seasonal wage employment in the country of work, on the other. We demonstrate the way in which the OFII contract programme is based on paternalism, while the contratación en origen relies on the institutions of motherhood and conjugality, two modes of interconnection that are eroded over time.

4 In order to compare the two cases, we then briefly trace the history of this utilitarian model for channelling labour migration and its recent revival. We analyse the rhetoric used to promote the programmes, highlighting the gap between liberal discourse and control practices. Contrary to the discourse of global migration management on the facilitation of human mobility that this model supposedly offers in an increasingly globalised world, we show that the “circulation” promoted by these seasonal recruitments is part of the continuum of control over the mobility of foreign workers within contemporary security-based capitalism.

5 Finally, despite the historical differences between the two cases presented here, we propose to define these forms of temporary recruitment as archetypes of migratory utilitarianism, of which one of the largely overlooked dimensions is the gendering of these programmes and the accompanying control of reproduction.

Comparing Two Temporary Migration Programmes of Different Ages: OFII Contracts in the South of France and Contratación en Origen in Andalusia

6 In order to compare our two case studies, we present below the structure and characteristics of each scheme, emphasising their difference in “age” and the different historical contexts of their development. We show how these programmes establish a twin dependency on the family economy (in the country of origin) and the seasonal wage (in the country of work) and the erosion of this dependency over time (Burawoy, 1976).

OFII Contracts: Paternalistic Management of Seasonal Migrant Wage Earners

7 After the long interlude of private management of labour immigration by the Société générale d’immigration during the inter-war period (Décosse, 2011), the ordinance of 2 November 1945 aimed to restructure French migration policy as a whole and created the institution responsible for its implementation: the Office national d’immigration (National Immigration Office – ONI), which later became the OMI, the ANAEM, [1] and then the Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration (French Office for Immigration and Integration – OFII). It was through this office that contingents of seasonal labour from Europe (Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Poland and Romania), but also from the recently decolonised Maghreb, were recruited and dispatched to French farms. Bilateral agreements signed with Morocco and Tunisia shortly after their independence (1963) laid the foundations for a “post-colonial, utilitarian” immigration scheme in which the former Empire was thought of and mobilised as a complementary labour pool (Morice, 2005). Over three quarters of a century (1945-2020), more than 4 million seasonal ONI contracts were concluded, for varying periods depending on the tasks and crops concerned (a few weeks for the grape harvest, half a year on certain vegetable-growing or tree-growing farms). These foreign employees initially formed the bulk of the labour arsenals for beet and cereal crops in the Paris basin and the north of France — the “harvest of the others” mentioned by Hubscher and Farcy (1996) — before becoming indispensable to rice-growing, winegrowing, tree-growing and vegetable-growing in the South of France (Midi) and other southern regions (Décosse, 2011). Today, the programme manages a contingent that is far smaller of the 140,000 individuals it covered in the early 1970s (see Figure 1). Since it now only manages 8,000 seasonal farmworkers, the current scheme appears, at the national level, to be a leftover from the golden age of migratory utilitarianism in agriculture. However, this does not mean that it has lost its central importance locally in the south-eastern region of France, where it is still heavily deployed. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse and Haute-Corse departments, OFII seasonal workers still form the backbone of the wage labour force on many farms.

Figure 1: Main Nationalities Brought in through OFII Seasonal Contracts (1946-2018)

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Figure 1: Main Nationalities Brought in through OFII Seasonal Contracts (1946-2018)

Sources: OMISTAT 2005; Data provided by the Service des Études du Rapport et des Statistiques (Department of Reports and Statistics) - OFII. Production: F. Décosse.

8 The main development since that golden age is that, since the beginning of the 2000s, the OFII scheme has no longer been the only way of channelling and putting to work migrant workers in intensive agriculture in Provence. It is now used, by temporary work agencies mainly based in Spain, alongside posting of thousands of non-EU employees, most of them North African and Latin American. This transformation represents, as it were, the second age of temporary immigration in France. In this second age, the administrative management of OFII seasonal mobility coexists with a versatile scheme of flexible work based on the externalisation of recruitment, the regulation of flows and movements by the market and the relative freedom of movement of workers within the Schengen area. [2] On the employment side, the triangular relationship inherent in temporary work contrasts with the direct relationship in the OFII contract, which, as we shall see, generates personal dependence and paternalism.

9 This second age is characterised more by a diversification of the forms of mobilisation of the migrant wage labour force than by the replacement of one mode by another. Indeed, it is the competition between the different forms within the same production area, or even within the same companies, that employers have been seeking since the 2000s, a decade in which OFII seasonal workers raised the level of conflict in the workplace and in the courts. The rise in the use of posted work makes the threat of replacement credible while, in practice and over time, the two supply channels remain co-present, allowing employers to “keep several irons in the fire” and thus protect themselves against a hypothetical labour shortage. This was the case during the COVID-19 health crisis when, in the spring of 2020, the delayed arrival of those employed under OFII contracts was partially mitigated by increased use of posted work (Castracani et al., 2020). The diversification of the modes of labour placement has been accompanied by a diversification of the profile of the workers recruited in terms of national origin and, more marginally, gender. Temporary workers are more likely to come from Latin America (particularly Ecuador and Bolivia), the Maghreb or West Africa, and there is a greater presence of women (Décosse and Desalvo, 2017). On this last point, we will briefly discuss here the gendered dimension of the OFII programme, a dimension shared by the contratos en origen scheme, which we will discuss below in parallel to this first case study.

10 In 2018, 99% of the OFII contingent was made up of men, a strong trend in the history of temporary migration in France. Indeed, the figure of the foreign seasonal worker is traditionally a man. Let us consider for a moment the ideologies at work in the gendered construction of this allocation of agricultural work to OFII seasonal workers and in its legitimisation/normalisation. Here we have a representation of agricultural work that firstly draws on a virile relation to the body and emphasises the physical dimension of the activity and the endurance of the worker. The qualities highlighted by employers are, for example, the fact that “OFIIs” are “resilient”, “tough”, or that they can handle the pace, while the locals cannot (Décosse, 2011). The work in the fields is viewed first and foremost as a wrestle with the earth, a manual activity by which an individual transforms nature and exposes himself to its whims (inclement weather). We can see that the masculinist representation of “hard” work is inseparable from another hegemonic representation of this same activity, namely that of “dirty work” (Hughes, 1997). With regard to OFII seasonal workers, this notion of dirty work is to be understood in the dual sense identified by Hughes, namely, that of work that is linked to soiling (in this case, by the earth) and which is therefore in itself “physically disgusting”, and that of degrading, demeaning work, “which goes counter to the more heroic of our moral conceptions”, and which must therefore be delegated (Hughes, 1997). In this way, the devalued image of agricultural work justifies the fact that it is entrusted to migrants. This is therefore a key ideological dimension of this utilitarian migratory scheme. It is linked to another gendered representation, this time not of work but of the worker, i.e., that of the “good family provider” (Castracani, 2019). For if the arrival of seasonal workers can be explained above all by the mechanism of “local outsourcing” (Terray, 1999), i.e., by their legally and socio-historically constructed willingness to accept poor working and employment conditions in France, their temporary presence is justified by the fact that they “come here to work” while their families remain back home.

11 In studies of temporary migration programmes, the most common analytical perspective is a focus on the effects of migration policy, i.e. on the circularity constructed “from the top down”. The risk of such an approach is to become trapped in an a priori functionalist explanation and to fail to take into account the human and relational dimension of such labour migration, and the need for employers to elicit some minimal form of consent from their workers. It is true that seasonal workers accept the imposed circularity for want of anything better (i.e. in a context of relative absence of migratory and professional alternatives that would allow them to reproduce their family unit in a different way). However, in order to be sustained over the long term, to ensure the loyalty of the workforce and to remain bearable on a day-to-day basis, this status of “bridled wage labour force” (Moulier-Boutang, 1998) needs to be embedded in intrapersonal relationships in which paternalism plays an important role. This creates a specific twin dependency, i.e. a form of “bottom-up” circularity that complements the former.

12 Before detailing both what we mean by paternalism and how it operates within the OFII seasonal scheme, it should be noted that there are two forms of recruitment. Anonymous recruitment, similar to that practised in Spain through contratos en origen, is very marginal in France and almost exclusively takes place in Corsica, with employers entrusting the Agence nationale pour l’emploi marocaine (Moroccan National Employment Agency – ANAPEC) with the task of recruiting part of the required labour force. Nominative recruitment is the main form historically favoured by employers because it allows an additional lock to be placed on a migratory scheme which is based on the injunction to circulate (Hellio, 2014). Under this second mode, the worker who is brought in is either already known to the employer (which presupposes that he or she has previously worked for him or her, usually as an undocumented migrant), or is recommended by a third party, which is the most common scenario. This third party is generally a trusted member of the boss’s staff with the status of foreperson, who organises a “black market in the right to emigrate and work in France” on his or her behalf (Berlan, 1991). The individuals he or she co-opts are part of his or her immediate social environment, i.e. they come from his or her region or village of origin, if not directly from his or her family or wider lineage (tribe [3] and/or clan). The mechanical solidarities that underlie the pre-existing social relations between the “sponsor” and the “debtors” generate, as we shall see, a disposition to obedience and “consenting” collective subjectivities that can be put to good use in work and discourage the inclination to take collective action. This closeness by no means implies that this intermediation work is free, far from it. In a context of scarcity of contracts and overabundance of candidates, the invaluable door opener can cost up to 13,000 euros and therefore generates phenomena of indebtedness that it is important to bear in mind in order to fully understand why seasonal workers play the game. In plain terms, these purchase/sale practices mean that new recruits work for free in the first year and that they do everything possible to maintain their employment and benefit from their participation in the programme in subsequent years.

13 The paternalism mentioned above is present to varying degrees depending on the size of the farms and the style of command exercised there (Décosse, 2019). In large structures, it tends to be exercised by forepersons, to whom employers allow a margin of autonomy and therefore a space to exercise the power delegated to them to manage the teams and organise both work and non-work. In small businesses, on the other hand, it maintains some of the features inherited from small-scale family agrarian capitalism, from the (admittedly largely mythologised) era when employees ate, as the saying goes, at the boss’ table. Nevertheless, despite its various forms, paternalism appears as a mode of labour management in which authority embodies both sanction and protection, i.e., two sides of the same coin, which it deploys alternately according to the circumstances (Morice, 1999). This implies that the paternalist can redistribute resources (overtime, extension of contracts, right to bring a relative, etc.) according to an attenuated model of the Melanesian Big Man (Sahlins, 1976). When there is deviation from this equilibrium because an employer gives up or is no longer able to play this role, the employer’s power loses legitimacy, which opens the door to collective action. This was the case, for example, in 2005 on a large tree-growing farm in La Crau, where a spontaneous strike broke out when the employer announced that he would not pay the overtime worked during the season that had just ended. In these configurations, which we will refer to in Morice’s terms (1999) as “hybrid paternalism”, the coercive dimension takes over, the sponsor no longer invests in the interpersonal relationship, no longer fulfils his or her duties of protection and no longer compensates his or her debtors in material or symbolic terms.

Contratación en Origen: Gendered Migratory Utilitarianism

14 In comparison with the OFII contract scheme, the Spanish contratación en origen, created in 2000, is a second-generation temporary migration programme, more marked by the recent characteristics of migratory utilitarianism, which we will analyse in the second part of this article: obsession with return, migratory suspicion (Rahmi, 2011), mobilisation of the rhetoric of “circulation” and comprehensive “migration management” to promote this longstanding form of labour mobility control, and finally interconnection between the policy on combating irregular immigration (strong incentive to sign readmission agreements) and the granting of labour immigration quotas (Hellio, 2014). The scheme has mainly been used by the agricultural sector, in particular in the Andalusian strawberry monoculture. This small “plastic sea” specialised in early production for export developed in Andalusia from the 1980s. The maintenance of low wages and flexibility were achieved through a segmentation of the labour market by ethnicity, gender and administrative status, constructed through the migration regime, first by the illegalisation of foreign labour during the 1990s, and then by the contratación en origen. The latter only applies to third-country nationals and gives access to a temporary residence and work permit, valid only for one province, one sector and one employer. At the end of the contract, seasonal workers must return to their country of origin. As the renewal of the contract is subject to the goodwill of the employer, recruitment at source is characterised, like the OFII contracts, by legal captivity (Basok, 2002).

15 Seven years after the creation of the programme, the province of Huelva was recruiting some 35,000 women seasonal workers, mainly from Poland and Romania (see Figure 2). The entry of these two countries into the European Union in 2004 and 2007 excluded their nationals from the scheme and prompted the sector to turn to Morocco. Cartaya, a municipality in the centre of the production zone, applied for a grant from the European Commission for a pilot project to manage seasonal recruitment between Morocco and the province. In a context of EU-wide promotion of temporary migration, it obtained a grant of 1.6 million euros. The Aeneas Cartaya project was presented as a programme for the “ethical and socially responsible management of labour migration flows from Africa to Europe” and made the return of seasonal workers a central criterion for success. One year after its launch, the municipality signed an agreement with ANAPEC, which had been receiving MEDA II [4] funds since 2004 to develop labour emigration to Europe without finding outlets. This envelope of approximately 5 million euros was largely used to send seasonal workers to Huelva. The state of origin is assigned the role of intermediary whereby it must participate in the pre-selection and recruitment of labour, in order to provide the best possible “offer”.

16 With a budget of more than 6 million euros to organise selection, recruitment, transport and mediation between this new group of women workers and the producers, the ANAPEC-Aeneas agreement boosted the recruitment at source of Moroccan women workers, even though this method of recruitment remains marginal in numerical terms within the employment system.

Figure 2: Share of Contratos en Origen in the Total Number of Agricultural Contracts Signed by Foreign Women in Agriculture in Huelva (2000-2018)

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Figure 2: Share of Contratos en Origen in the Total Number of Agricultural Contracts Signed by Foreign Women in Agriculture in Huelva (2000-2018)

Sources: Contratos en origen, Labour Directorate (2000-2010); estimates based on press reports (2011-2018); Servicio de Empleo Público Estatal. Production: E. Hellio.

17 The decline in the use of contratación en origen following the bursting of the Spanish housing bubble in 2008, as well as its revival in 2018, attest to the adaptability, but also the sensitivity of the scheme to the economic and political situation, as well as to the need to combine this form of labour mobilisation with others, including the recruitment of EU seasonal workers, together with in-country regularisation and the employment of undocumented migrants. [5] Although Moroccan women seasonal workers under contract do not form a majority, they nevertheless represent a highly valued workforce because of their lower mobility, which ensures their presence at the beginning and end of the season, when the shortage of working hours drives EU workers or those seeking documents to follow the path of the seasonal wheel. The injunction to circulate imposed on these women is not only grounded in their legal precariousness, but also in the material and ideological manifestations of gender relations. In order to avoid “runaways”, the programme’s actors (ANAPEC in Morocco, Cartaya municipality and employers’ organisations in Spain) reinforce the sexist criteria that have been present since the beginning of the contratación en origen. Since 2006, in Morocco, it has no longer been enough to recruit women. Only mothers with children under the age of fourteen conceived in a legitimate relationship (married, widowed or divorced women) can have access to the contract.

18 Why these criteria? Because these women perform the bulk of the domestic tasks within labour understood in its broad definition (Kergoat, 1982), which includes the work of “reproducing life” (Federici, 2014). It is because they carry out the material aspects of raising children, and because this activity is ideologically considered natural, prioritised and legitimate, that they are seen as ideal seasonal workers, working hard for their children, but returning to look after them at the end of the season. The programme seeks to integrate domestic work and wage labour for the purposes of flow control; femininity (and more specifically certain gendered roles: motherhood and wifehood) is no longer constructed only as flexible and productive (Salzinger, 2003), but also as amenable to being channelled. The sexist assumptions here are reinforced or rather co-formed by other norms and power relations, and in particular race relations, for if Moroccan women workers in Huelva are considered good, docile and “tough” workers, particularly attached to their homes and their children, housewives who “don’t go out and don’t drink”, it is not only because they are women, but also because they are Moroccan and Muslim, considered particularly subservient to a culture and religion perceived as macho (Moreno Nieto, 2012). The gender representations that underpin contratación en origen also resurrect the myth of return, based on an illusion of temporariness that has been extensively called into question in the context of past migration of men. Moroccan women seasonal workers under contract embody the new figures of circular migration, reinforcing the doxa according to which, if they had the choice, immigrants would prefer to stay in their country. Finally, the managers of the flow activate gendered and racialised norms and figures that de-legitimise any attempt to settle: the moral norms of what is good and bad behaviour for a woman act as bulwarks that guard the boundaries of temporary work by discouraging night-time outings and autonomous, unchannelled mobility. If we compare the twin dependency established by the contratación en origen to that experienced by Moroccan men workers under OFII contracts in France, gender norms reinforce the injunction for women seasonal workers to circulate between the countries of origin and of work. This is even more the case since, in material terms, the interconnection takes place at the level of the individual and not only the family. It is the same person who has to bring up a child south of the border and work in the north, which is made possible by a season that is generally much shorter than that of the Bouches-du-Rhône. According to Guillaumin (1992), the particular expressions of the appropriation of women are the appropriation of their time, the appropriation of the products of their bodies, sexual obligation, responsibility for the physical care of incapacitated members of the group (babies, children, the elderly or sick and infirm) and the able-bodied male members of the group. Marriage is the main vehicle for this appropriation because it covers the whole range of women’s work capacities: domestic service, procreation and, in many societies, agricultural work (Guillaumin, 1992). Women must therefore not only look after children, but also the reproduction of the men in the family, which no doubt helps to explain why women who no longer have a partner in the country are over-represented in the contingent. According to statistics from the Aeneas-Cartaya project, between 2006 and 2010, around 50% of women workers were widowed, separated or divorced.

19 The itineraries of the women seasonal workers reflect the contradictions inherent in these forms of recruitment. Despite the attempt to achieve a temporal separation of the productive and reproductive spheres through an injunction to circulate, i.e., despite the injunction to be a worker for part of the year and a mother out of season, each sphere overflows into and transforms the other, for example when a woman becomes pregnant, since a pregnancy cannot be carried to term between two harvests. Women seasonal workers are therefore forced to find ways to solve this impossible equation. Some manage to escape the programme and to a certain extent the deeply asymmetrical gender relations in the society of origin, but this is to gain seasonal access to the lowest rung of the local labour market. When they want to stay in Spain, the precariousness resulting from their illegalisation leads them to undertake sexual-economic exchanges (Tabet, 2004) or care work.

20 At the root of these contradictions, the contratación en origen system is the breeding ground for many abuses. Exploitation and sexual violence have been documented since the creation of the scheme (Reigada, 2009; Hellio, 2014) but have only exceptionally led to convictions and (very light) sentences. [6] It was only in 2018 that the heavy lid on this “public secret” (Holmes, 2006) was lifted through the intersection of three dynamics. Firstly, the season was characterised by an unprecedented increase in contratación en origen in Morocco, which had remained at its lowest level since the crisis. In 2018, employers’ organisations brought in 15,000 women seasonal workers. Many of them had been in Morocco without a contract for seven years and had meanwhile lost confidence in the programme. The spring was also marked by numerous nationwide feminist protests against sexual violence. [7] Finally, the report Violadas en los campos de Europa, published on 30 April 2018 [8] denounced the sexual violence suffered by women farmworkers in Huelva, Italy and Morocco. It was in this context that on 27 May, women seasonal workers on the Doñana 1998 estate ceased work to protest against their employer’s decision to impose a performance-related wage. This illegal practice is widespread in the area at the end of the season when farmers are determined to finish the harvest quickly and no longer care about the quality of fruit for processing. The employer’s attempt to put an end to the strike by organising the forced return of women seasonal workers to Morocco with the help of the Guardia Civil was reported on social networks and in the media and provoked national outrage. Associations and trade unions mobilised and, despite the fact that most of the strikers were sent back to Morocco a few days later, thirteen complaints were filed in the Social Court in Huelva and the Criminal Court in Palma del Condado. The women seasonal workers denounced violations of labour law and fundamental freedoms, trafficking offences and infringement of sexual freedom, pointing to a range of factors including the absence of a contract, non-payment of wages, indecent housing conditions, restrictions on freedom of movement, lack of access to health services, bullying and sexual harassment and violence. Two years later, the Criminal Court dismissed the case at first instance, without hearing the plaintiffs or taking into account the evidence presented, on the basis that none of the allegations met “the threshold of plausibility”. [9] The women were accused of engaging in prostitution or lying to avoid deportation. Both within and outside the programme, gendered and racialised stereotypes (“whore”, “submissive” woman, “slut”, “victim”, “con artist”) contain and neutralise any resistance. The distinctive feature of such stigmatisation is that it operates in a binary way, swinging between polarised figures: whore/victim, legal/illegal, good/bad mother, etc. Thus, strategies of denigration or invalidation of complaints reproduce the gender-based and racist discrimination underlying the programme.

21 Comparison of these two case studies reveals the contours of a common model of human mobility management for the exclusive purpose of labour force mobilisation in the same agricultural labour sub-market: that of intensive vegetable-growing and tree-growing embedded in the global agri-food market through global value chains. Competing within this market, both production basins (Provence and Huelva), use TMPs to reduce labour costs and ensure that the labour force is available only during the “season”. The comparison of these two configurations of production linked to the same migratory scheme leads logically to a need to widen the scope of our analysis, in order to improve understanding of this utilitarian migratory architecture and to develop theoretical perspectives on the control of migrant labour mobility in the contemporary world economy.

Temporary Migration Programmes in the Global Economy: “Back to the Future”

22 OFII contracts and contratos en origen are part of a long history of control of labour mobility in the capitalist system (Moulier-Boutang, 1998), which we partially trace here through a brief genealogy of temporary migration programmes and their implementation around the world. We then examine the rhetoric that has accompanied the revival of this form of labour migration and its functions within global migration governance.

A Scheme with a Long History and its Revival on a Global Scale

23 Temporary labour migration programmes appeared at the end of the 19th century and multiplied after the Second World War in North America and Europe. [10] This was the era of the “production paradigm”, centred on productive activities and labour (Larbiou, 2008) and of “rotating” migration in which migrants were “Wanted but not Welcome” (Zolberg, 1987). The “guest” worker (Gastarbeiter) became an essential figure in migration policies implemented by countries in the North. However, the oil crisis of 1974 and the ensuing economic crisis marked a breaking point and provoked a sudden realisation: “We wanted labour, but we got people” (Frisch, 1965). The illusion of temporariness (Sayad, 1977) dissipated and those programmes that were continued were tightened up to ensure that workers returned to their country of origin when they were no longer needed. [11] In public discourse, the figure of the immigrant worker faded into the background and was replaced in the 1990s by that of the undocumented migrant (Tourette et al., 2008).

24 However, against all odds, the end of the 20th century saw a move “back to the future” with the return of this form of labour migration management which Castles (1986 and 2006) had declared dead twenty years earlier. The revival took several forms. While new programmes were created in countries that had recently become countries of immigration, in those where such programmes were already in place, contingents of “guest” workers were increased and other programmes, known as “second-generation” programmes, were set up to diversify means of labour force mobilisation and the countries of origin of the wage earners. [12]

25 Revival did not happen by chance. The year 2000 saw a renewed interest in temporary labour migration by international organisations (OECD, IOM, WTO, ILO, [13] World Bank), but also by researchers whose careers were based on a back and forth between two spheres of “power-knowledge” (Foucault, 1975): the academic world and that of the global governance of migration flows, which was emerging at that time. The work of the neoclassical economist Ghosh (2000) popularised the idea that migration could be beneficial provided that it was “well managed”, “optimised” and based on the principle of “regulated openness” of borders. The development of this form of “orderly” migration was presented as an extension to the international labour market of the liberalisation dynamics already applied to the exchange of goods, services and capital (Geiger and Pécoud, 2010) and in this sense responded to a neoliberal governmentality (Kalm, 2010). The emphasis on mobility as a resource accessible to all, the focus on the “migrant-actor”, the alleged consideration of his/her point of view and the necessary collaboration between sending and receiving countries served to present these utilitarian schemes as vectors of free movement.

26 The Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM) emerged as the crucible in which the doctrine of global migration management was forged. [14] In line with the work mentioned above, it made the following recommendation in 2005: “States and the private sector should consider the option of introducing carefully designed temporary migration programmes as a means of addressing the economic needs of both countries of origin and destination.” [15] International organisations, led by the IOM, aligned with this doctrine [16] and offered their expertise, which they presented as pragmatic, technical and apolitical, to states seeking to adopt such schemes. The European Commission followed suit with a Green Paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration (Hellio, 2014: 177-225). Authors such as Schiff (2004), Ruhs (2006), Martin et al. (2006) and Fargues (2008) played an important advisory role to these institutions. They defined “best practices”, in particular to prevent these programmes from leading to end-of-season overstay. In order to update the model, a new lexicon was developed. It was no longer simply a question of temporary or seasonal migration, but of “circular migration”, “triple win”, “partnerships for mobility”, “ethical management of migration flows” and “co-development”.

The Rhetoric of Triple Win Migration and its Integration into a Mobility Paradigm

27 The lexical field of collaboration and reciprocity was deployed by promoters of the model who argued that temporary migration benefitted all actors: receiving states, countries of origin and migrants themselves. Thanks to TMPs, receiving states could avoid “the social and cultural problems arising from permanent migration” (Fargues, 2008: 11) and could reduce the scale of their programmes in the event of rising unemployment (as Spain did from 2008 onwards). For countries of origin, TMPs would allow them to dispose of their labour “surplus”, in exchange for social peace, foreign currency and “skills” acquired through migration, which could have a positive impact on local development. Third and last of all, temporary migrants would also benefit from their participation in TMPs, in that they are not required to uproot themselves permanently and can thus maintain a link with their families and their community. The latter is supposed to benefit from development as a result of the repatriation of foreign currency and know-how. [17] In addition, the institutional and academic literature mentioned above conveys a doxa of return, but also of forced departure, based on an alleged consideration of the aspirations of those primarily concerned. Fargues (2008: 4 and 12) provides a good illustration of this when he asserts that circular migration serves the interests of migrants for whom “leaving [their] country permanently is always a difficult choice” and who “would remain in their communities, were they offered opportunities at home”.

28 Promoters of these schemes reappropriate theoretical positions and part of the lexicon of Anglo-Saxon transnationalism and French migratory circulation schools (Schiller, 1992; Ma Mung et al., 1998). As Vertovec (2007: 3) points out, “[t]he current policy turn […] to temporary and circular migration policies stems in large part from the relatively recent recognition of the significance of migrant transnational practices. Indeed, most of the policy documents [promoting such policies] preface their remarks on circular migration with statements acknowledging the prevalence, ubiquity, and significance of transnational practices among migrants today”. Similarly, according to Geiger (2013: 32), the “proclaimed truths” of comprehensive migration management advocating a “post-control” spirit in this area, draw on this thinking, which emphasises the autonomy of migration and migrants’ agency, the benefits of dual presence and mobility know-how. Trends in transnationalism and migratory circulation have contributed to challenging the long-standing integrationist paradigm, according to which immigration is necessarily permanent and therefore implies, a priori, a break with the country of origin. The centrality of such thinking in the debate from 2000 onwards contributed to the replacement of the migratory paradigm by a “circulatory” or “mobilitarian” paradigm (Simon, 2009; Pellerin, 2011), which was then taken up by global migration governance. As Pellerin (2011: 63-64) summarises, drawing in particular on the analyses of Geyer and Straubhaar (2005): “In the language of experts, mobility constitutes the most favourable situation to achieve the maximisation of benefits [...] The new matrix builds on the dual idea of promoting mobility and producing ordered modes of mobility that can create a new social capital to benefit the global economy and migrants”. The same author adds that if this “is established as a conceptual framework to replace the term migration, it is necessary to grasp its implications, because more than an observation, it also constitutes a discourse and a paradigm, referring to an economic, social and political model of management of labour and its place in society. [...] The reference to mobility is largely used to designate migratory recruitment policies and reflects a political and economic context that stems from a decade of neo-liberalism” (Pellerin, 2011: 58). In the context of seasonal labour migration, insistence on the temporal limitation of mobility contributes to the disappearance, including in vocabulary, of the very idea of migration. The ILO thus promotes implementation of a “foreign placement” policy rather than an “emigration policy” (Abella, 1999). This is also evident in the Canadian Non Immigrant Employment Authorisation Programme or, closer to home, in the “posting” of workers among European Union member states (Tourette et al., 2008).

Function within Comprehensive Migration Governance: Channelling and Closure as Two Sides of the Same Coin

29 One aspect of the utilitarian revival is that the representation of migration as the temporary borrowing of labour for a (short) given period of time is more in line with current forms of labour organisation than those of the Fordist era (Venturini, 2008; Preibisch, 2007). However, despite a liberal discourse on mobility facilitation, considerations based on the control of flows are central to these programmes, which are strongly characterised by the logic of “migratory suspicion” (Rahmi, 2011). [18] Promoters of TMPs fail to specify that these movements are only envisaged if they are tightly controlled and on condition that they are useful to host countries. Rather than being a product of migrants’ agency, the resulting circularity is more the consequence of the prohibition to settle in the country of work and the control exerted over them. [19] If we broaden the focus slightly, it becomes clear that implementation of such programmes not only serves to control the temporary labour force, but all flows. It is an opportunity for receiving countries to require from countries of origin cooperation in the “fight against illegal immigration”, aimed at facilitating expulsions and blocking unwanted flows at source. TMPs are implemented within the framework of migratory bargaining (Morice, 2009), whereby contracts are “exchanged” in return for expulsions and collaboration in border control externalisation policies. Labour agreements thus make it possible to interconnect the two aspects of the same policy to control flows: a channel of access to a desired labour force is established in a country, while obtaining the cooperation of that same country in the deportation of undocumented workers, but also temporary workers who have not played the “game” by failing to return at the end of the season (Hellio, 2014). In order to justify this cooperation, the various discourses and projects emphasise the benefits in terms of mobility and security provided by these programmes to prospective migrants. However, the distinction between “legal” migration in which rights are protected and “illegal” migration as a vector of exploitation raises several questions. In the institutional literature, the illegality of residence is never presented as a social construct (De Genova, 2002). Although seasonal workers are clearly in a “regular” situation, the precariousness of their residence permit means that they are at permanent risk of illegalisation. The relationship of subordination thereby created makes access to and the practical implementation of labour rights, and social rights more generally, particularly difficult (Castracani, 2019; Décosse, 2011). What actually distinguishes these two modalities of migration (“legal”/“illegal”) is not so much the degree of effectiveness of the rights guaranteed (or not guaranteed) to migrant workers, as the strong degree of control that the state and the employer can exercise over the mobility and employment of those with “regular” status compared to undocumented migrants (Hellio, 2016).

30 As in the case of so-called “free trade” agreements, the triple win ideology conceals the existence of divergent interests and asymmetries of power (Hellio and Moreno, 2018). As designed by institutions, despite the apparent shared benefits, circular migration is in reality characterised by increased control of flows, externalisation to countries of origin of this control and of the costs of reproduction of the labour force, and competition among supplier countries in the international labour market. In the wake of Amin’s (1973) analysis of the functioning of the world economy and the relationship of dependence between the centre and the periphery, it is clear that the import of labour from the South by the North continues to represent an unequal exchange which is unfavourable to labour force exporting countries (Sayad, 1991), taking place through the migratory scheme detailed below.

What is a TMP? Elements of a Definition

31 Having outlined the history of this unique form of human mobility management and analysed the rhetoric underpinning it, we propose a definition that highlights its implications for the political economy of migration.

32 We propose to define a temporary migration programme (TMP) as a migration scheme (1) with a utilitarian purpose (2) that controls labour mobility by making movements circular (3), which makes it possible to physically separate the space-times of production and reproduction of labour power, while interconnecting them in economic terms (4) and thus to obtain a “bridled wage labour force” (5). For the sake of clarity, each element of the definition is discussed and developed below.

33 (1) The notion proposed here of “migration scheme” draws on Foucault’s classic definition of the scheme (dispositif), namely “strategies of power relations supporting types of knowledge, and supported by them”, which make up “a resolutely heterogeneous ensemble, comprising discourses, institutions, architectural arrangements, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions. In short: the said, as much as the unsaid. [...] The scheme itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements” (Foucault, 1994: 299). We thus take up this idea of an interconnected constellation of elements of power and knowledge to account for the composite nature of this migratory governance architecture, which is shaped by positive law and implemented by governments and employers. Power is mediated through an infrastructure for screening, accommodation and transport. It is also rooted in the world of ideas, in that it is founded on - and at the same time, Foucault insists, founds - elements of knowledge, and in this case a hegemonic and therefore “legitimate” representation of migration that we describe, in the words of Morice (2001), as “utilitarian”.

34 (2) This migration administration scheme is indeed, and this is the second element of the proposed definition, a paradigmatic example of “migratory utilitarianism”, i.e. “the propensity of societies to address migration on the basis of the anticipated benefits and disadvantages of foreign nationals, whose arrival they organise or permit, mainly in terms of the labour force provided” (Morice, 2004). More than thirty years ago, Sayad (1986) formulated this “official line” in similar terms: “[I]immigration only makes sense and is intelligible to political understanding if it is a source of ‘profits’ or, at the very least, if the costs of it do not exceed the ‘profits’ it can provide”. This economics- and accounting-based representation of the migration phenomenon contains a prescriptive dimension, and the temporary migration programme is presented precisely as a technology for managing migrant populations which is capable of adjusting flows to production needs.

35 (3) The third element of definition refers more specifically to practices aimed at regulating movements between here and there, practices which, by relying on the law, infrastructures and social obligations back home, confine migrants in a system of coming and going between the countries of origin and the country of employment. To import “work without the worker” (Morice, 2004), the scheme controls human mobility by giving it a circular character. Through it, receiving states reactivate the age-old figure of the wheel (noria) and seek to create a kind of perpetual pendulum movement between countries of origin and of work by making return a prior indispensable condition for participation. As we have seen above in the comparative presentation of our two case studies, migrants recruited under TMPs are not allowed to stay in France or Spain for any purpose other than work, and only in the jobs and economic sectors designated by employers and the state.

36 (4) The fourth element of the definition is that this utilitarian channelling of mobility corresponds to a migration logic based on flow rather than stock, which has implications for the political economy of migration that we will outline in this paper by taking up the theoretical models developed by Meillassoux (1975) and Burawoy (1976). The seasonal migratory scheme allows for the physical separation of the space-times of production and reproduction of labour power, while at the same time interconnecting them in economic terms. In doing so, TMPs create an interdependence between two economies or rather between two modes of production (capitalist/domestic). The channelling of seasonal workers is guaranteed when the worker is sufficiently dependent on income from seasonal migration and the domestic economy of the household to which he/she returns at the end of the season, described by Burawoy (1976) as twin dependency. The condition for the reproduction of a migrant labour system is thus the temporary and forced separation, by a set of legal and political arrangements, of the worker from his/her family, preserving their mutual dependence. This requires the gendering of programmes — recruits are exclusively women or exclusively men — and the control of workers’ sexuality, or, to put it in other words, a biopolitics of temporary work, whereby the contingent is managed as a social group at risk of settling down over time and overcoming the attempt to reduce the workers to the work implemented by the programme (Becerril, 2007). This biopolitics is again part of a historical continuum (Moulier-Boutang, 1998; Stoler, 2013) and allows for the externalisation to the rural and/or domestic economy in the country of origin of the costs of maintaining and reproducing the out-of-season labour force (Décosse, 2011; Hellio, 2014), an economy based on what Meillassoux (1975) refers to as the “labour rent” (rente en travail).

37 (5) We conclude this unfolding of our definition by explaining the last element: as a utilitarian scheme that implements mobility in the form of an injunction to circulate, TMPs tend to create forms of “bridled wage labour”. Within this scheme of “continuous” circular mobility that governs cross-border movements, migrants do not have the freedom of placement on the labour market, a constitutive element of the condition of free worker. Their right of residence is strictly limited to the work contract and tied to an employer, who decides at his or her discretion whether to renew the contract the following year. TMPs are thus part of the long-standing tradition of control exerted on workers’ mobility through capital, in order to prevent them from exercising their right to flee when confronted with poor working conditions and remuneration (Moulier-Boutang, 1998; Mezzadra, 2005; Décosse, 2011; Hellio, 2014). They produce a form of wage labour force that is distinct from the classic wage labour force: the “bridled wage labour force” or dependent wage labour force. The migrant labour system thus established is not, however, immutable. Interdependence between home and host countries and the strict separation of production and reproduction tend to erode over time, usually leading to resistance and eventually replacement of the labour force (Burawoy, 1976).


38 This article presents a definition of temporary migration programmes and analyses the roles of actors who promote and implement this model of orderly migration management. The comparison of our two case studies highlighted the way in which TMPs carefully interconnect the channelling of the international mobility of the migrant labour force and its immobilisation on the labour market, an immobilisation that turns foreign seasonal farmworkers into a “bridled wage labour force”, dependent, bound (in the strict sense) to an employer who, alone, decides whether the worker will return the following year. In contrast to a transnational vision that would lead us to interpret the “seasonal society” (Hellio, 2014) as the product of free movement between two territories, we have emphasised the importance of (supra-)state and employer schemes to control mobility. In both cases, we observe that the injunction to circulate implemented by the programmes operates through family ties, that it leads to the separation of members of the nuclear family for long periods (six to nine months per year), while maintaining these ties that allow the social costs of intensive agricultural production to be externalised to the families and countries of origin.

39 Over time, there is also an erosion of “twin dependency”. For OFII workers, the paternalistic framework regulating the labour force that had made it possible to secure the injunction to circulate for more than thirty years was challenged by individual and collective actions carried out by seasonal workers and their supporters at the beginning of the 2000s, paving the way for a diversification of statuses and profiles of migrant farmworkers, particularly through the development of international service provision or the direct hiring of European workers, the directo-a-s (Castracani et al., 2021). In the case of contratación en origen, almost twenty years after the first recruitments, the mobilisations of 2018 and subsequent court cases called into question a model heavily subsidised by the European Union and the Spanish state. This was not a problem for employers who could rely on internal circulation within the European Union to complete the harvest. Taken together, however, these dynamics of erosion dispel two of the main illusions underpinning the current revival of migratory utilitarianism on a global scale: on the one hand, the belief that it is possible and desirable, in the long term, to force migration to remain temporary; on the other hand, the idea that these schemes involve truly ethical management of migration flows and, by providing a legal framework for this labour mobility, guarantee the effectiveness of the law.


  • [1]
    Respectively the Office des migrations internationales (International Migration Office – OMI) and the Agence nationale de l’accueil des étrangers et des migrations (National Agency for the Reception of Foreign Nationals and Migration – ANAEM).
  • [2]
    It should be noted here that “posted work” is the only way by which a “third-country national” residing in a European Union country can work in another Member State. Once they have become Spanish citizens, former posted workers from outside the EU can legally work in France and are therefore referred using the emic term “directo-a-s” (direct hires). See Castracani et al. (2021).
  • [3]
    For example, the four main Moroccan tribes represented in the OFII TMP are: Aït Igzennayen, Branès, Mernissa and Mtioua.
  • [4]
    The MEDA Regulation is the principal instrument of economic and financial cooperation under the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. It was launched in 1996 (MEDA I) and amended in 2000 (MEDA II). It enables the European Union (EU) to provide financial and technical assistance to the countries in the southern Mediterranean.
  • [5]
    The solid line shows contratación en origen by nationality in Huelva: more than 95% of contracts are signed by women. The dotted line shows the distribution by nationality of farmworkers. We can see here that the TMP is a starting point leading to more autonomous mobility, that the sector recruits through other channels when the supply of contracts ends, and that the official figures may be higher than the number of seasonal workers present in Spain, as contracts are not always honoured by growers. Although this practice is illegal, it is a good illustration of the fact that these workers are seen as a “reserve quota” to be brought in as needed (Hellio, 2014).
  • [6]
    Provincial Court of Huelva, 3rd Section, Judgement 142/2014 of 24 April 2014, Rec. 143/2014, [online], accessed on 19/06/2022. URL:
  • [7]
    April mobilisations against the sentence in the La Manada rape case, judged as sexual abuse by the Court of Navarra (Ceballos, 2019).
  • [8]
    Müller Pascale and Prandi Stefania (2018) Violadas en los campos de Europa, BuzzFeedNews, 18 May, [online], accessed on 19/06/2022. URL:
  • [9]
    Echevarría Perico (2019) Caso Doñana 1998: radiografía de argumentos y pruebas que la judicatura onubense «no trata», La Mar de Onuba, 19 October [online], accessed on 19/06/2022. URL:
  • [10]
    For example, the Bracero programme in the United States in 1942; various programmes introduced in France, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands in 1945, in Belgium in 1946 and in Germany in 1953; and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme in Canada in 1966.
  • [11]
    In France, following the suspension of permanent economic immigration in July 1974, the seasonal migration scheme underwent major reform: the process of “permanisation” (becoming permanent), which had made it possible to shift to a more long-term residence permit, was abolished (Décosse, 2011).
  • [12]
    This was the case of the Canadian Low Skills Programme, supplementing the former Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme, which was exclusively aimed at Mexico and Jamaica, by extending recruitment to Guatemala.
  • [13]
    Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO).
  • [14]
    For more information on this genesis, see Geiger and Pécoud (2013).
  • [15]
    Global Commission on International Migration (2005) Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action. Report of the Global Commission on International Migration, 18, [online] accessed on 16/09/2022. URL:
  • [16]
    OSCE, IOM and ILO (2006) Handbook on Establishing Effective Labour Migration Policies, Vienna, Mediterranean edition.
  • [17]
    This idea of triple benefit (win-win-win) echoes the consensual vision of migration based on the “illusion of temporariness” which, according to Sayad (1977: 60), accompanies early immigration: “Because it conceals the indirect and deferred effects of the migration phenomenon (i.e. often negative aspects) in order to retain only the immediate advantages, the image of migration as a continual ‘rotation’ exerts a strong seductive power on all concerned: the host society is convinced that it can eternally dispose of workers [...] without (or hardly) paying in terms of social problems; the society of origin believes that it can thereby obtain the monetary resources it needs indefinitely [...]; the emigrants are convinced that they are fulfilling their obligations to their group (while being separated from it) and their rural dweller status (while becoming a labourer) without the sense that they are losing their identity”.
  • [18]
    The contradiction between a discourse focused on mobility practices and the reinforcement of migration control also characterises the above-mentioned transnationalist and circulation-based theoretical positions (Waldinger and Fitzgerald, 2004; Pécoud, 2006).
  • [19]
    Communication from the EU Commission of 16 May 2007 on circular migration and mobility partnerships between the European Union and third countries [COM (2007) 248 final, not published in the Official Journal].

Drawing on our theses on the intensive agriculture labour markets in Provence and Andalusia (Décosse, 2011; Hellio, 2014), this article offers a reflection on contemporary migratory utilitarianism. By comparing OFII contracts and contratos en origen, we contrast two differently gendered variations of the same utilitarian model for the management of foreign workers: the temporary migration programme (TMP). This article examines the way in which this migratory architecture, based on an injunction to circulate, is founded on an interconnection between seasonal wage employment and the rural and/or domestic economy in the country of origin. We then briefly trace the genealogy of these schemes, before focusing on the concepts created to ensure their revival at the turn of the 21st century. After presenting our arguments, which combine empirical investigation in the agricultural sector with a socio-historical approach, we suggest a theoretical definition of TMPs as archetypes of migratory utilitarianism.

  • migratory utilitarianism
  • contratos en origen
  • illusion of temporariness
  • temporary migration programme
  • OFII contracts

Utilitarisme migratoire et programmes de migration temporaire. Une étude comparée des contrats OFII (France) et des contratos en origen (Espagne)

À partir de nos thèses portant sur les marchés du travail de l’agriculture intensive provençale et andalouse (Décosse, 2011 ; Hellio, 2014), cet article propose une réflexion sur l’utilitarisme migratoire contemporain. En mettant en regard les contrats OFII et les contratos en origen, nous comparons deux déclinaisons — différemment sexuées — d’un même modèle de gestion utilitariste de la force de travail étrangère : le programme de migration temporaire (PMT). Dans un premier temps l’article évalue comment ces architectures migratoires basées sur une assignation à circuler s’appuient sur une articulation entre salariat saisonnier d’une part et économie paysanne et/ou domestique dans le pays d’origine de l’autre. L’étude retrace ensuite succinctement la généalogie de ces dispositifs puis insiste sur les concepts créés pour en assurer le renouveau au tournant des années 2000. Arrivé à la fin d’une démonstration qui allie donc études de cas dans le secteur agricole et approche socio-historique, l’article propose une définition théorique des PMT comme archétypes d’utilitarisme migratoire.

  • programme de migration temporaire
  • utilitarisme migratoire
  • contratos en origen
  • contrats OFII
  • illusion du provisoire

Utilitarismo migratorio y programas de migración temporal. Estudio comparativo de los contratos OFII (Francia) y los contratos en origen (España)

A partir de tesis sobre los mercados de trabajo de la agricultura intensiva en Provenza y Andalucía (Décosse, 2011; Hellio, 2014), este artículo propone una reflexión sobre el utilitarismo migratorio contemporáneo. Al comparar los contratos OFII y los contratos en origen, se compare dos variaciones — sexuadas de manera distinta — del mismo modelo de gestión utilitaria de la mano de obra extranjera: el programa de migración temporal (PMT). En primer lugar, el artículo muestra cómo estas arquitecturas migratorias caracterizadas por una asignación a circular se basan en una articulación entre el trabajo asalariado estacional, por un lado, y la economía campesina y/o doméstica en el país de origen, por otro. A continuación, el estudio repasa brevemente la genealogía de estos acuerdos y nos centramos en los conceptos creados para garantizar su renovación en el cambio de siglo. Al final de una demostración que combina estudios de casos en el sector agrícola y un enfoque socio-histórico, se propone una definición teórica de los PMT como arquetipos del utilitarismo migratorio.

  • programas de migraciones temporales
  • utilitarismo migratorio
  • contratación en origen
  • contratos OFII
  • ilusión de lo provisorio
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Frédéric Décosse
Sociologist, Aix Marseille Univ-CNRS-LEST, 35 av. Jules Ferry, 13626 Aix-en-Provence; France;; frederic.decosse[at]
Emmanuelle Hellio
Sociologist, scientific member of Casa de Velázquez, associate member of Lest and Urmis, C. Paul Guinard, 3, 28040 Madrid, Spain;; manouhellio[at]
Translated by
Alexandra Poméon O’Neill
Translated by
Katherine Booth
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
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