March 21, 2002

Guest Workers

New Solution, New Problem?

Highlights

• About 1.2 million or 47 percent of the 2.5 million persons employed for wages on US farms are unauthorized. The share of unauthorized workers is highest in seasonal fruit and vegetable crops.

• A legalization program that required unauthorized workers to have done at least 90 days of farm work in the preceding year would allow 50 to 70 percent of currently unauthorized workers, 600,000 to 840,000 individuals, to legalize their status.

• If newly legalized workers exit the farm work force at the same rate as Special Agricultural Workers (SAWs) did after being legalized in 1987-88, about 125,000 new workers would be needed each year. Taking into account exits of all types of farm workers, it is likely that at least 250,000 new workers would be needed each year if farm labor conditions remain unchanged.