Access to hired labor in agricultural production processes is a pre-requisite for ensuring
consumers have access to a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply; however, changing U.S. immigration policy threatens to create shortages of qualified and willing seasonal workers, which may lead to increases in farm wages, shrinking farm profits, and higher food prices for consumers. Labor is a critical input in production agriculture, accounting for approximately 10% of total operating expenses for the average farm (Zahniser et al. 2018). These costs can rise sharply for many high-value crops (e.g. greenhouse, fruit, tree-nut, vegetables, melons), reaching 40% of total operating expenses and a significant share of the final price paid at the grocery store (Zahniser et al. 2018). To fill critical positions in the agri-food supply chain, many U.S. producers have relied heavily on foreign-born workers. For these workers, legal status is a widespread problem, with estimates suggesting between 50 and 70 percent of hired crop workers are undocumented and lack the immigration status needed to work legally in the U.S. (AFBF 2019). Given the importance of hired immigrant labor to U.S. agriculture, there remains a critical need to examine how changes in U.S. immigration policies may affect agricultural labor supply and existing food supply chains. Our objective in this proposal is to investigate the economic effects changing U.S. immigration policy may have on agricultural laborers, producers, and consumers. We propose focusing on two specific dimensions of immigration policy change. The first is an increase in the number and scope of immigration enforcement actions targeting undocumented agricultural labor. Enforcement actions may directly remove workers or indirectly deter migrant workers from seeking employment, leading producers to switch crops, reduce production, or even exit agriculture (Goldbaum 2019). The second is an expansion and restructuring of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program. Proposed changes will streamline the visa application process, reduce processing delays, and provide added flexibility to bring in more workers across multiple crops, but at a higher expected cost than current practices (Dorning 2019). In this project, we will undertake three main activities. First, we will analyze existing datasets to describe the use of documented and undocumented immigrant labor in U.S. agriculture
by combining information from the USDA Census of Agriculture, the National Agricultural
Workers Survey (NAWS), and the Foreign Labor Certification Database. Second, we will review current and proposed changes to U.S. immigration policy focusing on enforcement and H2-A visa programs focusing on press releases and published rule changes in the U.S. Federal Register. Third, we will conduct a representative survey of Florida adults to measure attitudes towards immigration policy surrounding agricultural labor. We also plan to evaluate consumers’ willingness to pay higher food prices in response to changes in immigration policy using representative products. We plan to communicate our findings to the public through a newspaper editorial (Target: Orlando Sentinel) and through a UF IFAS Extension publication. Shedding new light on the relationship between immigration and agricultural labor supply promises to advance public understanding in several important ways. First, we will highlight and explain the most recent developments in immigration policy affecting U.S. agriculture. Second, this work will explicitly relate immigration policy, agricultural production, and food prices for the broader public. Rather than limiting discussion to the welfare effects of agricultural labor groups, this work will directly connect immigration policy decisions to prices observed in the marketplace. Finally, we will assess whether and to what extent consumers are willing to bear higher costs in exchange for more strict immigration and border policies. The public’s understanding of these associations may change voters’ cost-benefit analysis of immigrant-related issues.