By providing flexible labour that adjusts to the economic needs of receiving countries, circular migration represents another important step to a more flexible regulation of flows. Circular migration includes both short and long-term tenure in the host country. The difference with traditional temporary schemes, such as the US Bracero programme,2 is that migrants have the opportunity to cross the border more than once, either in a seasonal - less than one year - or temporary - more than one year - scheme (OECD, 2007a). Not only is the level of acceptance by the locally born higher than with permanent migration, but circular migration also takes the interests of migrants, as well as the development of the origin country, better into account.
A classical example of the use of short-term circular migration is found in the agricultural sector. Instead of bringing in different workers every year, circular migration programmes offer the guarantee of return the following year. The temptation to stay on irregularly in the host country is therefore lower than with traditional temporary migration programmes (Weil, 2010). In addition, migrants can save money without breaking the link with their families for extended periods, and the contribution to the development in the community of origin is stronger.
In the long term, return can also foster circularity and increase tolerance of immigration. When local populations know that immigrants will eventually return to their countries of origin, opposition to immigration decreases. Return can also help leverage development in origin countries, thanks to financial and human capital acquired in the host country. In this respect, several European countries have assistance programmes aimed at getting immigrants to accept voluntary return to their countries.
But return also needs to be circular. Indeed, on many occasions the reason why migrants do not return to their country of origin is because they are not assured of re-entry into the host country. In fact, one of the main factors why family reunification significantly increased in Europe after 1975 is related to the closing of borders to economic immigrants. Those that knew they could no longer circulate freely preferred to bring their families to the host country rather than return home.
Even though circular migration brings benefits, it represents a way for receiving countries to avoid the integration costs related to immigration, such as public expenditure on education, health and housing (Akers Chacon and Davis, 2006). It is cheaper, both economically and socially, to bring in temporary labour rather than allow foreign workers to settle permanently. Nevertheless, such policy comes at a cost, as employers must retrain new workers. Keeping previously trained immigrants would, in effect, be more efficient (OECD, 2008).
For this reason permanent migration must also be considered. As underlined previously, industrialised economies require long-term migration and many migrants would prefer to stay and settle in the host country. This implies acknowledging that there are losers in the process and that they must be compensated.