To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Undocumented immigration and the business of farm labor contracting in the USA

Anita Alves Pena (Department of Economics, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA)

American Journal of Business

ISSN: 1935-5181

Article publication date: 13 April 2012



Farm labor contractors operate as intermediaries between farmworkers and agricultural employers by recruiting and supplying labor to US farms. In a political economy where there are employer sanctions for hiring workers without proper documentation, contractors share risk alongside final employers. Furthermore, contractors may facilitate quick employment matches during time sensitive agricultural tasks such as harvesting. For undocumented workers, using a contractor may decrease uncertainty associated with a foreign labor market and ease language barriers. The purpose of this paper is to examine the current role of labor contractors in delivering immigrant agricultural workers, particularly undocumented workers, to farms.


Determinants of labor contractor use and relationships to final worker outcomes are examined using econometric methods and a large nationally‐representative worker survey that is distinctive in that it distinguishes legal status.


Undocumented farmworkers are shown to be more likely to use contractors than are documented workers, though statistical significance is sensitive to the inclusion of crop and task indicators, and wages and fringe compensation to workers who use contractors are lower, even after controlling for legal status.

Research limitations/implications

The paper contributes to limited recent academic work on the role of labor contractors in US agriculture. Future work may examine ongoing changes to this role in the context of mutable immigration policy and public opinion.

Practical implications

It is argued that the decline in labor contracting increases the need for employer‐level bilingual communication skills and compliance with labor regulations.


Understanding current dynamics of the agricultural labor market should be of value to scholars of rural economies, farm owners and agricultural policymakers.



Alves Pena, A. (2012), "Undocumented immigration and the business of farm labor contracting in the USA", American Journal of Business, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 10-26.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited