Immigration Policy and Agriculture: Possible Directions for the Future
Presidential candidate Trump in 2016 promised to prevent unauthorized migration and deport unauthorized foreigners in the United States, and President Trump issued executive orders after taking office in January 2017 that could lead to a 2,000-mile wall on the Mexico-US border and the removal of many of the 11 million unauthorized foreigners, including one million who work in US agriculture. This paper emphasizes that, especially agriculture in the western United States, has long relied on newcomers to fill seasonal farm jobs. The slowdown in Mexico-US migration since 2008-09 means that there are fewer flexible newcomers to supplement the current workforce, which is aging and settled. Farm employers are responding by offering bonuses to satisfy current workers, stretching them with productivity-increasing tools, substituting machines for workers, and supplementing current workforces with legal H-2A guest workers.
Immigration policy will influence the choice between mechanization, guest workers, and imports. Several factors suggest that the United States may be poised to embark on another large-scale guest worker program for agriculture. If it does, farmers should begin to pay Social Security and Unemployment Insurance (UI) taxes on the wages of H-2A workers to foster mechanization and development in the workers’ communities of origin by dividing these payroll taxes equally between workers as they depart and commodity-specific boards. Worker departure bonuses could be matched by governments in migrant-sending areas to promote development, and commodity-specific boards could spend monies to reduce dependence on hand labor over time. The economic incentives provided by payroll taxes could help to usher in a new and better era of farm labor.