Foreign agricultural workers allow farms to expand production, lower prices, and raise incomes for most workers in the United States. Government intervention in the labor market inhibits the ability of farmers to plan the planting and harvesting of crops appropriately, leading to a reduction in production at the start of the season or crops rotting at the end. This governmentcreated uncertainty also makes it more difficult for U.S. companies that rely on U.S. agricultural products to expand. At the same time, unnecessary regulations on agricultural guest workers limit their availability, incentivizing illegal immigration.
To fix these problems and end the regulatory uncertainty, Congress should grant a lawful status to the existing unauthorized immigrant workforce — a disproportionate share of which works in agriculture — and it should reform the current H-2A temporary worker program for future agricultural workers. Excessive regulatory costs and arbitrary limitations on the occupations that H-2A workers may perform limit the use of the program. Any revised H-2A program should allow guest workers to change employers without ex ante government permission and to freely negotiate wages or other benefits without fear of losing their status.