Migration Policy Institute
Farm to Table: The Role of Immigrants in U.S. Farm Labor in 2016
Daniel Carroll, Federal Program Officer, National Agricultural Workers Survey, Employment and Training Administration, Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Labor
Tom Hertz, Economist, Rural Economy Branch, Resource and Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Philip Martin, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Editor of Migration News and Rural Migration News, University of California, Davis
Muzaffar Chishti, Director, MPI's office at NYU School of Law
Bruce Goldstein, President, Farmworker Justice
The slowdown in migration from Mexico since the 2008-09 recession has had a little-noted effect on farm labor in the United States: Increased use of the H-2A guestworker program. The H-2A program, long criticized by employers for cumbersome regulations, has doubled in size since 2007 and now provides workers to fill more than 150,000 farm jobs.
Since agriculture relies on newcomers from abroad to replace farm workers who exit for nonfarm jobs, farm labor markets are ideal for observing employer adjustments to the reduction in the arrival of immigrant labor. Often identified as the source for unauthorized migration from Mexico because of the Bracero program, agriculture may also provide the template for future immigration reforms that involve legalizing currently unauthorized workers and making it easier to hire guestworkers in the future.
This Migration Policy Institute discussion features new data that could help inform future reform debates. It also focuses on some of the adjustments that farm employers are making, including increased mechanization, improved wages and benefits, and the increased use of the H-2A program.