Immigration Reform:

Potential Impact on West Coast Farm Labor

HRD-89-89: Published: Aug 17, 1989. Publicly Released: Aug 17, 1989.

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GAO provided information on the likelihood of growers in California, Washington, and Oregon facing seasonal farm labor shortages in 1989 because of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), focusing on: (1) the extent to which growers were dependent on the unauthorized alien work force; (2) changes growers made in their labor management and farming practices to meet IRCA-induced labor reductions; and (3) growers' views on and use of federal programs to provide legal farm labor.

GAO found that: (1) about 55 percent of growers in the three states reported some use of unauthorized alien farm workers in 1987 and about 40 percent reported that over half of their seasonal work force was unauthorized; (2) because about 75 percent of growers stated that they provided documents to aid some of their workers in applying for legal status, the actual use of unauthorized aliens could be higher; (3) about 70,000 unauthorized alien farm workers applied for legalization under IRCA in addition to the 1.3 million aliens who applied for legalization under the Special Agricultural Workers Program; (4) the majority of growers expected a labor shortage in 1989 due to IRCA, but did not expect to offer benefits to attract workers; (5) growers did not make substantial changes between 1986 and 1989 in their farming practices to employ fewer workers; (6) no more than 12 percent of growers planned to provide bonuses to returning workers, new or additional housing, or other benefits; (7) farm labor and immigration experts did not expect a labor shortage due to the poor economic conditions in other countries that would result in alien immigration; and (8) in the event of a shortage, growers would probably employ unauthorized aliens rather than accept crop losses.

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