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What is a Migrant Worker?

M. McGee
By M. McGee
Updated May 16, 2024
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The term migrant worker can apply to two different types of workers. The common definition in the United States is a worker that moves from place to place, often performing seasonal work. In other parts of the world, a migrant worker is a person that works outside of their home country. Location also plays a big part in the connotation of the term. Some places have very negative associations with the term, while others have no association at all.

The difference in definition of migrant worker likely comes from the particular country's size and the number of other nations bordering it. In large countries, like the US, there are many places, climates and seasons within its borders for seasonal workers. In smaller countries, or countries with many neighbors, it isn’t uncommon for people to work outside of their home nation.

In the US, a migrant worker generally refers to a person working seasonal, often agricultural, jobs. Originally, migrant workers were a vital part of the country's agricultural system, particularly during periods of economic hardship. Over the years, the term has gained a negative connotation. These workers are often seen as unskilled or poorly educated. In many parts of the country, they are widely seen as illegal immigrants from other countries.

Even though the term is often negative, there are many types of jobs that require migrant workers. Many types of skilled workers move from place to place while working, particularly in the construction field. Workers that assist with natural disasters such as seasonal floods or fires are also migratory. Even individuals who work as overland transport drivers or military personnel could be considered migrant workers.

In other areas of the world, migrant workers are seen in a different light. The official United Nations (UN) definition says that a migrant worker is someone who works in a place in which they are not a citizen. There are many reasons that workers may want to work in one country and have citizenship in another.

One of the most common reasons someone may want to do this has to do with taxation. If you make money in one country but have residence in another, you are governed by a different set of laws. In some cases, you may not have any taxes at all on your income. This practice was brought to worldwide attention during the 70s and 80s when several high-profile English bands moved to the U.S. and Switzerland. Migrating for this reason is commonly referred to as tax exile.

The other common reason has to do with differences in money value. The currency of one country may be worth significantly more than in a neighboring nation. If a person is a migrant worker and sends money back to his home, the relative value of the worker’s income increases. For some, this can make even low-paying jobs very lucrative in the long run.

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Discussion Comments

By anon324540 — On Mar 11, 2013

I'm doing a project in English about migrant workers in the 1930s.

By cupcake15 — On Jan 07, 2011

SurfNTurf-There is some debate as to what if any impact that these migrant workers today are having on our general availability of jobs.

There is one argument that these farm workers are actually helping businesses because they are doing jobs that the typical American would not do.

There is also another camp that suggests that illegal immigration actually takes viable jobs away from the American workforce.

Whatever position you take, there is bound to be an argument on the issue from either side.

By surfNturf — On Jan 06, 2011

Migrant farm workers are usually laborers that pick crops in the fields. Many of these migrant workers today are of many nationalities some are from Mexican descent and usually work illegally in the United States.

They get paid daily and usually in cash and often their wages are very low because they are undocumented workers.

Some of these migrant workers today send the money they earn back home to support their families because there are limited employment opportunities in their country. Some even make a life for themselves here and raise a family.The life of migrant farm workers today involves a lot of hard work and long days in the sun.

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