Analysis of North Carolina Farm Industry Finds that Foreign Workers Annually Add Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to the Economy, Creating Jobs for Americans Across the State’s Economy
Even During Highest Levels of Unemployment, Few Americans Would Take These Farm Jobs, Far Fewer Would Stay
The Partnership for a New American Economy and the Center for Global Development (CGD) today released a new report, “International Harvest: A Case Study of How Foreign Workers Help American Farms Grow Crops – and the Economy.” The report, which examines North Carolina as a case study, analyzes data from local farms and finds that immigrant agriculture workers not only fill farm jobs that U.S. workers will not – they also benefit the state’s economy and create American jobs by doing so. According to the report: In 2011, despite nearly 500,000 unemployed American workers in North Carolina, extensive advertising, and wages required by law to match local wage rates, only seven American workers completed the growing season in the entire state; in 2012, the 7,000 foreign-born seasonal agriculture workers who filled North Carolina farm jobs added an estimated $248 million to $371 million to the state economy that year; and every 3-5 foreign farm workers the U.S. brings in creates an additional American job. The report was authored by Michael Clemens, a CGD senior fellow and a leading expert on the economic impacts of temporary work visas.
As Congress works to overhaul the country’s immigration system, including the temporary guest-worker visa program, the debate continues on whether foreign workers compete with American workers for U.S. jobs or complement American workers and add to the economy. North Carolina presents a unique opportunity to study this question in agriculture because the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) – which is made up of many of North Carolina’s leading farms – is the largest single user of temporary visas for agriculture workers in the country. Fifteen years of data from NCGA show that virtually no U.S. workers are competing for these agriculture jobs and the extent to which American farms depend on foreign labor to operate.
“Business leaders in our coalition and across the country who work in the agriculture industry see everyday how American farms are hurt by an immigration system that hasn’t been updated for decades,” said Partnership for a New American Economy Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Until we fix this broken system, America’s farm owners will continue losing out on the critical labor they need to keep their businesses healthy – and our economy strong. It’s time for lawmakers in both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes measures to streamline our temporary guest-worker program so we can get the workers we need to keep our farms running and create American jobs.”
“It’s clear in the data that without foreign farm workers, North Carolina’s farms would not have access to the labor they need. U.S.-born workers simply will not take the jobs offered on North Carolina farms, but immigrants are filling these roles, creating American jobs, and promoting our economic well-being with their contributions,” said CGD’s Michael Clemens.
Looking at 15 years of data from the North Carolina Growers Association, the report finds the following:
- There is virtually no supply of U.S.-born manual farm laborers in North Carolina: In 2011, with 6,500 available farm jobs in the state, only 268 of the nearly 500,000 unemployed North Carolinians applied for these jobs. More than 90 percent (245 people) of those applying were hired, but just 163 showed up for the first day of work. Only seven native workers completed the entire growing season, filling only one-tenth of 1 percent of the open farm jobs.
- No matter how bad the economy becomes, U.S.-born workers still will not take farm jobs: In the late 2000s, North Carolina experienced an economic shock that dramatically increased the state’s unemployment rate, from 4.7 percent in 2007 to 10.9 percent in 2010. Yet there was almost no correlation between rising unemployment and either more American workers being referred to NCGA jobs or more workers starting at NCGA jobs, and there was no correlation between higher unemployment and more workers completing the growing season.
- Foreign farm workers create jobs for American workers: In 2012, the foreign-born seasonal agriculture workers who filled North Carolina farm jobs added an estimated $248 million to $371 million to the state economy that year. This economic benefit created one U.S. worker job for each 3.0 to 4.6 immigrant farm workers who worked in North Carolina.
- The North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) – the organization that compromises many of the state’s leading farms – spends more money to comply with the immigration laws designed to protect American workers than it does on salaries for all of its American farm workers combined: The NCGA spent more than $100,000 to advertise farm jobs and comply with immigration laws in 2011, while NCGA farms paid out just $87,000 in wages to the seven native workers who completed the season working on the farm, showing that the program protecting native employment is inefficient.
Based on these findings, the report concludes with the following recommendations for any future guest worker visa for agriculture:
- The number of agricultural guest worker visas should remain uncapped or be structured in a way that meets farmers’ labor needs. In North Carolina, native workers filled just one-tenth of one percent of farms’ labor needs. Any temporary visa program should provide sufficient workers to meet the remaining 99.9 percent of job openings.
- The number of agricultural worker visas should not depend on local or national unemployment rates. Even when unemployment more than doubled in North Carolina, there was just a slight increase in native workers referred to NCGA jobs and starting, and no change in the number of workers who completed the season.
- Requirements to protect American workers should be modernized and streamlined. The recruiting requirements for US farm workers should be preserved, but should be streamlined so that the cost of recruiting – and accompanying documentation – does not exceed the values of the jobs.
- The guest worker program should have the flexibility needed by agriculture’s employers and employees. Because the needs of planting and harvest depend on climate and weather, farmers should be certified as having jobs that cannot be filled by native workers, then allowed to hire the guest workers as need arises throughout the season, and guest workers should be free to work for any certified farmer who has job openings.
Additional Research on Immigration and American Job Creation
The report is the latest report from the Partnership for A New American Economy showing that immigrants help the economy grow and create new American jobs. Previous findings include:
- Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. (The “New American” Fortune 500, June 2011)
- Every foreign-born science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) worker with an advanced degree from a US university creates 2.62 additional jobs for Americans (Immigration and American Jobs, December 2011)
- In 2011, at the top 10 patent-generating universities, 76 percent of all patents had a foreign-born inventor. (Patent Pending, June 2012)
- Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as the native born. (Open for Business, August 2012)
About the Partnership for a New American Economy
The Partnership for a New American Economy brings together more than 500 Republican, Democratic and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. The Partnership’s members include mayors of more than 35 million people nationwide and business leaders of companies that generate more than $1.5 trillion and employ more than 4 million people across all sectors of the economy, from Agriculture to Aerospace, Hospitality to High Tech and Media to Manufacturing. Partnership members understand that immigration is essential to maintaining the productive, diverse and flexible workforce that America needs to ensure prosperity over the coming generations. Learn more at www.RenewOurEconomy.org.
About the Center for Global Development
The Center for Global Development works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for us all. A nimble, independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit think tank, CGD combines world-class research with policy analysis and innovative communications to turn ideas into action. Learn more at www.cgdev.org.