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 discussion features 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.