A stable, legal workforce is critical to meeting the future food needs of 9 billion people by 2050. A robust workforce will be necessary to increase productivity while simultaneously protecting natural resources and the environment, ensure the profitability of farm operations, and build the infrastructure necessary to support a strong food and agriculture sector. Over the last 50 years, U.S. agricultural productivity has increased, and many farms and ranches have come to rely more on hired, often foreign-born, farmworkers to meet their needs for both permanent and seasonal labor. The fact that many jobs are seasonal can make it hard for workers to earn a family-supporting wage. The time-sensitivity of many farm, ranch, dairy, and custom harvesting operations requires workers to be available precisely when they are needed to avoid loss. Thus, effective immigration policy is vital to the United States’ economic health and to the resilience and livelihoods of rural and agricultural communities that rely on foreign-born labor.
Eleven million foreign-born U.S. residents are undocumented, nearly half of whom are couples with children, and 4.5 million U.S.-born children are their sons and daughters.1 Approximately 2 million foreign-born workers are part of the farm workforce,2 working in fields, ranches, and dairies. Of that number, at least half are estimated to be undocumented immigrants.3
Dissatisfaction with the existing immigration system and its impact on the economy, particularly within the agricultural sector, has prompted the current administration and key Congressional leaders to propose policy solutions. President Obama has recognized the importance of a stable workforce to “deliver food to our tables” and supports proposals to legalize undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Bipartisan discussions are underway for immigration reform in the 113th Congress.
Recognize the importance of agricultural labor: Provide incentives to employers to offer skill development and training opportunities to farmworkers seeking to progress to higher skill levels and to management and ownership of enterprises in food and agriculture.
Improve the farm labor market: Work with public and private actors to improve coordination within the farm labor market so producers have access to the labor they need, while ensuring family supporting wages for farmworkers.
Encourage and support partnerships with the home countries of immigrants: Collaborate with governments and the public and private actors already addressing poverty and hunger as primary causes of undocumented migration to the United States and work to develop appropriate measures to manage the flow of migrant workers in a legal and transparent manner.
Although all the individuals formally affiliated with AGree may not agree completely with every statement noted, they are committed to working together to find solutions to the challenges facing food and agriculture. For citations, please visit http://foodandagpolicy.org/sites/default/files/AGree_position_citations.pdf
View or download a PDF version of the Create a Stable, Legal Workforce position paper.