Agricultural Guestworkers and the New Immigrant Economy

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern (FST) PI, Bhavneet Walia (PH) co-I, Mary Jo Dudley (Cornell) Consultant
2019-2020 SU CUSE Grant – Innovative & Interdisciplinary Research, $20,000.

Due to strenuous working conditions and low average wages, labor shortages are a consistent challenge in U.S. production agriculture. For decades, farmers have been turning to foreign-born workers to fill labor-intensive positions. This study focuses on the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, which has been promoted as a solution to the contradicting labor needs of farmers and the increasingly precarious environment for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Despite growing demand for a stable workforce from farmers as well as requests from immigrants and their advocates for safe and reliable immigration options, there is little contemporary research documenting worker and farmer experience with the program. The lack of current research on the H2-A and other guestworker programs means that essential agricultural and immigration policy is being debated without the perspectives of affected workers and farmers. Our research project fills this gap, looking at the circumstances and experiences of farmers, farmworkers, and intermediary agents who participate in the H2-A program throughout New York State.

Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodology, this project will explore the benefits and barriers of the program, while simultaneously addressing a need to better understand the nuanced historical and political context of agricultural labor struggles. Through collaboration with the Cornell Farmworker Program, scholars from SU will gain unique access to an otherwise difficult to reach population of workers. This research will provide new and valuable insights into the conditions and future of immigrant labor in the food system, with implications on a regional, national and global scale.