Economic Impact of Immigration

Why is Labor Important to Farmers?

  • Agriculture needs anywhere from 1.5 -2 million hired workers.
  • Labor costs account for 48 percent of the variable production costs for fresh fruits and 35 percent of variable costs for fresh vegetables.
  • The current labor situation is most acute for delicate berries and easily bruised produce. Harvesting costs for strawberries, blackberries and cherries account for about 60% to 66% of total production costs, making labor the primary harvest expense. People are needed to judge which fruit are ready to be picked and which need to be left to ripen.
  • Many migrants who begin their careers as farm laborers move onto other sectors of the economy or less demanding positions after several years. This progression leads to farmers often being the first to bear the negative economic impacts of decreased border crossings and migrant labor shortages.
  • At least 50-70 percent of farm laborers in the country today are unauthorized. Few U.S. workers are willing to fill available farm labor jobs. 

Challenges of the H-2A Program

  • 72 percent of growers reported that workers arrived on average of 22 days after the “date of need.”
  • The program provides less than 4 percent of the hired workers needed in agriculture.
  • Entering into the H-2A program has been found to increase the obstacles that farmers face in order to hire and maintain employees. Only 8 percent of employers report that they were audited before they participated in the H-2A program, but 35 percent report being audited since entering the program.
  • An NCAE survey found that 47 percent of employers were “not at all satisfied” or only “slightly satisfied” with the H-2A program.
  • Farmers and even professional H-2A agents are routinely forced to hire lawyers to help them get through the process successfully.

Labor Impacts on Imports

  • A PNAE study found that when comparing the two year periods between 1998-2000 and 2010-2012, the share of fresh produce consumed in America that was imported rose by 73.9 percent.
  • Without an adequate supply of labor American farmer are at a competitive disadvantage. Americans ate 6.6 billion more pounds of imported fresh fruits and vegetables in 2010-2012 than they ate from 1998-2000.
  • The farm labor shortage explains as much as $3.3 billion in missed GDP growth in 2012. It also accounts for $1.3 billion in farm income that wasn’t realized that year.
  • Had U.S. growers not faced labor challenges—and been able to maintain the share of fresh produce they provided to the domestic market from 1998-2000— America would have boasted more than 89,000 more jobs in 2012. American GDP would have grown by almost $12.4 billion in 2012 and produced almost $4.9 billion more in annual farm revenues.
  • Almost 75 percent of that $12.4 billion in GDP growth would have been due to increased economic activity in the non-farm parts of the economy that year.

Effects of Enforcement Only Immigration Reform

  • The impacts of an enforcement only approach to immigration would be detrimental to the agricultural industry. If agriculture were to lose access to all undocumented workers, agricultural output would fall by $30 to $60 billion.
  • The enforcement only option would increase food prices by 5-6 percent, with domestic fruit production off by 30-61 percent and vegetable production down 15-31percent. The livestock sector would also suffer lost production in the 13-27 percent range.
  • The ideal approach would be enforcement with an adjustment of status and a redesigned guest worker program. This approach would result in no increase in food prices. There would be minimal decreases in fruit, vegetable, grain, and livestock production.

AFBF Farm Labor Study: Gauging the Farm Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform via Changes in Labor Costs and Availability 

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