January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1
CRS: Ag Guest Workers
Levine emphasized that the policy debate over agricultural guest workers focuses on two questions: (1) the adequacy of the US supply of farm workers; and (2) whether the presence of temporary foreign workers adversely affects US workers. Answers to these questions range from employers who assert that they hire all US workers available at prevailing wages before turning to guest workers to worker advocates who contend that adding workers, according to economic theory, depresses farm worker wages and slowing the search for labor-saving changes.
The Bracero program, which admitted a peak 445,000 workers in 1956, was found to have adverse effects on US workers. One study estimated that farm wages were depressed by six to seven percent, which increased the employment of farm workers and slowed labor-saving mechanization. Another study estimated that higher farm wages would have attracted more US workers to fill farm jobs.