E.g., 08/23/2017
E.g., 08/23/2017

Immigration and Farm Labor: From Unauthorized to H-2A for Some?

Policy Briefs
August 2017

Immigration and Farm Labor: From Unauthorized to H-2A for Some?

Although immigrant workers have long been employed on U.S. farms, shifting migration patterns and employer labor strategies are reshaping the agricultural workforce. Migration from Mexico to the United States has slowed with the the 2008–09 recession, improving conditions in rural Mexico, and stepped-up border enforcement.

With fewer new arrivals, the agricultural workforce is aging, settling down, and forming or reuniting families, as this analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) shows. Between 2000 and 2014, the unauthorized share of workers declined from 55 percent to 47 percent.

With the supply of newcomers seeking work on U.S. farms less certain than in the past, farm employers are adjusting how they recruit and retain workers, the author writes. Some have introduced incentives to satisfy current workers and mechanical aids to stretch their productivity, while others have sought to substitute machines for workers or to supplement them with H-2A guest workers. Temporary workers brought in on H-2A visas make up a small but rapidly growing share of the farm workforce and, should this trend continue, have the potential to significantly affect U.S.-born and other foreign-born workers alike.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

Seasonality and the Immigrant Workforce

II. Immigrants in an Evolving U.S. Agriculture Industry

A. Changing Immigration Patterns, Workforce Demographics, and Production Strategies

B. Employer Adaptation to the Changing Face of Farm Labor

III. The H-2A Program: An Increasingly Popular Source of Newcomers

A. Slow Adoption and Recent Growth

B. Implications for the Broader Agriculture Industry

IV. Recommendations

A. Improved Data Collection and Use

B. Increased Support for Research