Associate Professor of Public Policy
295 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10012
Natasha Iskander, Associate Professor of Public Policy, conducts research on labor migration and economic development, on labor mobilization and its relationship to workforce development, and on processes of institutional innovation and organizational learning. Her recent award-wining book, entitled Creative State: Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in Morocco and Mexico (Cornell University Press: 2010), examines how the governments of Mexico and Morocco elaborated policies to build a link between labor emigration and local economic development. Her current project investigates how tacit skill moves across national borders through international migration, and the resource it represents for economic development. She has focused on Mexican migrants in the US and Mexican construction industries, and has now begun a project on processes of skill development among migrants in Qatar's construction industry. Additionally, Dr. Iskander examines the impact on rapid rural-to-urban migration on the provision of urban water and sanitation, and its relationship to climate change. Natasha Iskander received her PhD in Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She also holds a Masters in City Planning from MIT, and a BA in Cultural Studies from Stanford University. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked for several years in non-profits in Egypt and the United States on issues of urban development, micro credit and community health planning. She has also worked as a community activist and migrant labor organizer.
Qatar National Research Foundation: $550,000
The project, entitled “Skill-Building and Industry Development through Migration: The Role of Migrants in Qatar’s Construction Industry,” will examine how migrants acquire, translate, and develop skill while working on construction sites in Doha and will explore the skills that they may take back with them to their countries of origin or third countries. The project will involve field research in Qatar, as well as in migration source countries, including India and Nepal.
The politics of immigration and immigration policy seem more critical now than ever. Public debates about immigration have roiled nations around the world, and disagreements about how immigration should be regulated, who should have the right to migrate, what political rights immigrants should have once they cross a border, and how immigrants should participate in the economy have strained political alliances and upended norms of political discourse. In some cases, conflicts over immigration debates have been used to justify the overhaul of political institutions. However, these are not new. The history of migration is long, and the disputes about migration just as old. In the modern era – defined here as the mid-19th century onward – debates about migration have returned over and over to a consistent set of themes, and have often been as heated and as strident as they are today.
These debates have engaged head-on with issues of economic equity and distribution of wealth, national identity, and the allocation of power in a society. Their connection to the actual empirics of migration, however, has been more tenuous. While the political discourse is framed in terms of immigration policy, the political contests have had more to do with tensions around economic transformation and dislocation, with concerns about national security, and with changes in social norms than they have had to do with the actual observed facts of immigration. Despite this slippage, these debates have had stakes that are very high. The policies they have produced have affected migrants profoundly, often upending their social and economic lives.
The course considers these debates, their relationship to the empirics of migration, and the policy outcomes that they produce. These issues are considered from several angles: the labor-market incorporation of immigrants and their families; the construction and militarization of borders, and the enforcement of the distinction made between refugees and immigrants; the possibilities for connection among communities, economies, and political categories that migration represents; and new aspects of migration as security concerns and climate change come to the fore. For each of these topics, the course reaches back to find their historical expressions, and brings the insights and questions from the past to bear on the present.
To explore these issues, the course considers immigration in local and global contexts. Because of the historical component to the course, the emphasis is on migration flows to Europe and North America. The course reviews the impact of those migration flows on countries of origin and investigates whether migration can be a vector for economic development. The exploration of those issues brings the global South into the course, and that investigation is deepened through a consideration of a subset of South-South migration flows and of the policy questions they generate.
This course introduces the theory and practice of institutional reform in developing and transitional countries. It reviews the evolution of international development paradigms, examining how the role, structure, and management of institutions, the public sector, and non-governmental organizations have changed in response to shifting economic and political trends, with a particular emphasis on accountability. The focus is on major institutional and managerial reforms intended to promote good governance as less developed economies liberalize and their societies democratize. Key topics include issues of property rights, knowledge and innovation, learning, the rule of law, decentralization/intergovernmental relations, civil service reforms, anticorruption, citizen engagement, and public-private partnerships. In addition, the roles of international development aid and the external institutions that support institutional and managerial reform in developing and transitional countries are introduced. The course concludes with a synthetic review and a comparative case study exercise.
In recent years, the relationship between migration and development has received renewed attention, and analysts, policy-makers, and development experts have returned to the question of how to use emigration to foster economic growth in countries and communities of origin. The main thrust of this inquiry has focused on how to use remittances – the monies that migrants send back home – to support economic activity (de la Garza & Orozco 2002; Orozco 2002; Munzele Maimbo & Ratha 2005; Ratha 2005). However, among countries with high emigration rates, a handful of governments have expanded their emphasis past remittances to create policies that link emigration and development in a more comprehensive way (Castles & Delgado Wise 2008). Morocco and Mexico feature prominently among them. Both countries have policies to link emigration with local and national economic transformation that reach beyond a narrow focus on remittances, and that, more importantly, are creative, participatory, and dynamic (Iskander 2010). At their outset, however, the policies were as single-minded in their focus on remittances as any of the more mercenary examples of today.
The impact that remittances – the monies that migrants send home – have on the development on migrant-sending economies is a matter of considerable debate. This essay presents the case of Morocco and its state-controlled bank, La Banque Centrale Populaire (BCP), to argue that the major determinant of remittance impact on development is the quality and breadth of financial intermediation to which migrants have access. By providing a set of financial tools that allowed migrants to deposit, save, and invest with the institution, the BCP, since 1969, simultaneously made remittances funds available the migrants for their personal expenditures and to the Moroccan government for large-scale industrial investment. However, to create financial services for migrants with an appeal broad enough to bring significant amounts of remittance liquidity into the banking sector, BCP had to engage migrants in an open and collaborative process of product design. Ultimately, this paper argues, migrants’ involvement in the design of financial products enabled them to use the banking system to redirect remittances resources to rural and semi-rural areas most migrants were from, and to amend the industrial development priorities of the Moroccan government.
Studies of low-wage workers have long recognized the role of space in mediating access to employment. Significantly less attention has been paid to the ways in which space informs workers' ability to develop the attributes that would make them more employable. In this article, we address this gap through an examination of how immigrant workers use the relative spatial organization of residence and production to cultivate the skills that enable them to shift out of low-wage occupations. We also argue that workers' spatial job market strategies have an important, but often overlooked, temporal aspect: workers use space over time not only to shape their access to jobs but also to create breathing room for learning skills that enable them to improve their employment trajectories over the long term. Drawing on a multiyear ethnographic study of Mexican immigrants in downtown Philadelphia, we show that immigrant workers used the functional proximity among the restaurant industry, small-scale residential construction work pertaining to housing renovation, and the neighborhoods where they lived to develop skill sets that enabled them to shift into higher-wage construction jobs. In essence, these workers knitted together two seemingly separate industries, such that they could use their employment time in one for learning in and about the other. Our study suggests that interventions that curtail immigrants' mobility may have implications that are far more serious than limiting immediate access to jobs: these measures may undercut immigrants' strategies for developing the skills required for long-term occupational mobility and advancement.
Using an ethnographic case study of Mexican immigrant construction workers in two U.S. cities and in Mexico, the authors illustrate the contribution of immigrant skill as a resource for changing workplace practices. As a complement to explanations that situate the protection of job quality and the defense of skill to external institutions, the authors show that immigrants use collective learning practices to improve job quality from inside the work environment—that is to say from the inside-out. The authors also find that immigrants use collective skill-building practices to negotiate for improvements to their jobs; however, their ability to do so depends on the institutions that organize production locally. Particular attention is given to the quality of those industry institutions, noting that where they are more malleable, immigrant workers gain more latitude to alter their working conditions and their prospects for advancement.
This article examines informal training and skill development pathways of Latino immigrant construction workers in two different urban labor markets: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. We find that institutional differences across local labor markets not only shape how immigrants develop skills in specific places but also determine the localized obstacles they face in demonstrating and harnessing these skills for employment. To explain the role of local institutions in shaping differences in skill development experience and opportunities, we draw on the concept of tacit skill, a term that is rarely incorporated into studies of the labor market participation of less educated immigrants. We argue that innovative pathways that Latino immigrant workers have created to develop tacit skill can strengthen advocacy planning efforts aimed at improving employment opportunities and working conditions for marginalized workers, immigrant and nonimmigrant alike.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, with the amount of money emigrants sent home soaring to new highs, governments around the world began searching for ways to capitalize on emigration for economic growth, and they looked to nations that already had policies in place. Morocco and Mexico featured prominently as sources of "best practices" in this area, with tailor-made financial instruments that brought migrants into the banking system, captured remittances for national development projects, fostered partnerships with emigrants for infrastructure design and provision, hosted transnational forums for development planning, and emboldened cross-border political lobbies.
In Creative State, Natasha Iskander chronicles how these innovative policies emerged and evolved over forty years. She reveals that the Moroccan and Mexican policies emulated as models of excellence were not initially devised to link emigration to development, but rather were deployed to strengthen both governments' domestic hold on power. The process of policy design, however, was so iterative and improvisational that neither the governments nor their migrant constituencies ever predicted, much less intended, the ways the new initiatives would gradually but fundamentally redefine nationhood, development, and citizenship. Morocco's and Mexico's experiences with migration and development policy demonstrate that far from being a prosaic institution resistant to change, the state can be a remarkable site of creativity, an essential but often overlooked component of good governance.
This paper documents the rise and fall of a micro-learning region in Philadelphia. The central actors in this region are undocumented Mexican immigrants who until recently were able to draw on the intensity of their workplace interactions and their heterodox knowledge to produce new and innovative building techniques in the city's residential construction. The new knowledge they developed was primarily tacit. More significantly, the learning practices through which immigrant workers developed skill and innovated new techniques were also heavily tacit. Because these practices were never made formal and were never made explicit, they remained invisible and difficult to defend. With the housing market collapse and subsequent decline in housing renovation in south-center region of Philadelphia, this tacit knowledge and the practices that gave it shape and significance, are no longer easily accessible. We draw on this case to demonstrate the importance of access to the political and economic resources to turn learning practices into visible structured institutions that protect knowledge and skill. Whether or not the practices that support knowledge development are themselves made explicit can determine whether the knowledge they produce becomes an innovation that is recognized and adopted or whether it remains confined to a set of ephemeral practices that exist only so long as they are being enacted.
Nominally, the wave of protests by undocumented immigrants that swept through France in the late 1990s successfully challenged the restrictive Pasqua immigration laws. However, despite appearances, the mass movement was at base a labour protest: undocumented workers demonstrated against immigration laws that undermined the way they navigated informal labour markets and, in particular, truncated their opportunities for skill development. Furthermore, it is proposed in this article that examining social movements for their labour content can reveal erosions of working conditions and worker power in informal sector employment. A case study of the Paris garment district is presented to demonstrate how the spread of ‘hybrid-informality' made legal work permits a prerequisite for working informally and relegated undocumented immigrants to lower quality jobs outside the cluster.