The ‘Guest-Worker Syndrome’ Revisited?

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This paper discusses whether recent Polish labour migrants in Norway are likely to face long-term integration problems related to labour market exclusion and welfare dependency. The analyses of the development over the first six years since European Union accession suggest a conditional yes. On the basis of survey and qualitative data collected among Polish workers in Oslo, I show that (1) substantial numbers of initial temporary migrants have settled down, owing to life-cycle- and family-related dynamics of the migratory process; (2) flexibilisation and ethnic segmentation in migrant-labour-intensive industries have prevented migrants from accessing stable employment; and (3) migrant workers with weak ties to the labour market are particularly at risk of being pushed out of employment in times of economic uncertainty and restructuring. These workers have, however, so far had quite limited access to unemployment benefits and other welfare state benefits. The analyses suggest that, despite some significant differences, the experiences of the so-called guest-workers of the post-war era may be a relevant historical reference for understanding the situation of today’s free-moving Central and Eastern European workers.

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