The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration, by Martin Ruhs . Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2013, 272 pp., ISBN: 978 0 69113 291 4, $35.00, hardback.

Publication Date01 June 2014
AuthorGabriella Alberti
The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration, by Martin Ruhs.
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2013, 272 pp., ISBN: 978 0 69113 291
4, $35.00, hardback.
Drawing from a wide range of research on labour migration programmes across the
world, The Price of Rights is a provocative evaluation of the tension between liber-
alizing immigration and granting rights to migrant workers. The author discusses
the regulation of migrant labour against the background of current debates among
policy makers, academics and international organizations on the human rights of
migrants. Considering the reluctance by the majority of high-income countries to
ratify the United Nations’ ‘International Convention on the Protection of the Rights
of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families’ and other International
Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, Ruhs explores the reasons for governments
to restrict migrants’ admission and their rights. The central hypothesis is that open-
ness to labour migration depends on the extent to which ‘rights can be restricted’
(p. 188).
Ruhs combines in-depth case studies and quantitative methods to identify and
explain the correlations among openness, rights and skills, comparing the migration
policies of 46 countries. Providing evidence of a ‘trade-off’ between selected social
rights and openness, the author illustrates that programmes for low-skilled migrants
are accompanied by systems that restrict their social benefits, right to reside in the
country and choice of employment. The underlying assumption is that low-skilled
migrants have negative impacts on local workers such as downward pressure on
wages and on welfare systems. On the other hand, the UK point-based system of
immigration is a clear example of how governments have tended to privilege highly
skilled migration in the ‘global race for talent’ (p. 93) while curtailing the channels for
medium and low-skilled workers. There are, however, some exceptions, such as the
Gulf countries characterized by large admission policies at all skills levels, and
Sweden, which combines an employer-led policy targeting both high- and low-skilled
migrants with an egalitarian framework of employment rights.
The same trade-off between rights and openness is applied to the discussion on
migrants and their countries of origin that appear not to insist on full and equal
rights for fear of reduced access. According to the author, migrants’ human devel-
opment and their choice to move abroad despite restrictions of their rights should be
included in any ‘normative discussion’ on migration policies. The ethics of migration
programmes is further discussed focusing on temporary migration schemes as an
example of existing channels where low-skilled migrants enjoy limited rights. Taking
a ‘pragmatic approach’, Ruhs concludes that the gains of liberalizing migration are
worth the price of restricting rights, arguing in favour of selective restrictions in
British Journal of Industrial Relations doi: 10.1111/bjir.12062
52:2 June 2014 0007–1080 pp. 387–400
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd/London School of Economics. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd,
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

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