In 2012, Graeme Hugo wrote the article ‘Migration and Development in Low-income
Countries: A Role for Destination Country Policy?’ for the inaugural issue of the
journal Migration and Development. That article, which continues to be the journal’s
most viewed work,1 used the case of Asian and Pacific migration to Australia to question
‘whether policies and practices by destination governments relating to international
migration and settlement can play a role in facilitating positive developmental impacts
in origin communities’ (Hugo 2012, 25). The importance of such structural support for
development has been underscored, in relation to seasonal worker programs, by
growing evidence that their broader development benefits-beyond the household or
family unit—cannot be taken for granted (Basok 2000; Craven 2015; Joint Standing
Committee on Migration (JSCM) 2016).
In this essay we take inspiration from the above-mentioned paper (Hugo 2012), as well
as an earlier discussion of ‘best practice’ temporary labour migration for development
(Hugo 2009). Reflecting on Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), we make a
case for the importance of maximising ‘development benefits for origin countries via
the transfer of remittances, skills and knowledge’ (Bedford et al. 2017, 39; emphasis
added). Remittances have been a regular area of policy and research focus. However,
less attention has been directed towards the knowledges and skills that move with seasonal
workers as part of this circular and temporary migration process—in which the choice is
not reduced to one ‘between staying or going’ (Methmann and Oels 2015, 53), but both
staying and going (often repeatedly).
Here we draw on our own ongoing research with Pacific Island seasonal workers in
Australia’s horticultural sector, which points towards the potential for the SWP to facilitate
the bi-directional transfer of horticultural knowledges and skills.2 Many seasonal
workers have extensive farming experience developed in their countries of origin.
Acknowledgement of their farming skills and identities prompts contemplation of how
the horticultural knowledge transfers that already happen spontaneously under the
SWP could be better supported.