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Migratory Workers - History

Migratory Workers - History

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Many people were forced to travel to get work.

Migrant labour

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migrant labour, casual and unskilled workers who move about systematically from one region to another offering their services on a temporary, usually seasonal, basis. Migrant labour in various forms is found in South Africa, the Middle East, western Europe, North America, and India.

Migrant workers

From 1917 and to the early 1920s war time food demands created many jobs for migrant workers around the country. As the war ended food production stayed the same but demand was reduce which made cheap migrant workers more valuable. most of the migrant workers at the time were from mexico and during the 1920s many mexicans immigrated to u.s to meet the labor demands. School was shut down and children would go to work and help pick fruit and vegetables.


with the onset of the great depression all the industries fell into hard times including the agricultural industry. There were many people in the u.s that did not have jobs at the time and were willing to work for less money. In an effort to open up jobs for people born in the united states many mexican and mexican-american migrant workers were deported to create jobs for people in the u.s. many mexican and mexican-american migrant workers were deported. to create jobs foe people in the U.S. At first americans were reluctant to take migratory labor positions but many took them out of necessity.


The U.S entered world war 2 in 1941 and this brought back the war time demand for food and labor. Farmers products were in high in demand but they didn't have the labor force to harvest their crops. Once again mexico was called upon to fill the labor demands created by the war. Mexico and America created an agreement known as the bracero program which managed the importation of mexican workers.


were very good for those working in the bracero program in the U.S. The program brought nearly

350,000 workers into the country during the 50s, many of them only made a annaul salary of 7,500 dollars a year. They would sign contracts with companies to pick: sugar beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cotton. the times were good for work, but the workers still had to del with very harsh living conditions and racism.


Saw the san of Bracero program for several reasons, the main being that it was described as "legalized slavery." The 60s saw a huge increase in illegal workers coming to the country while at the same time there was a decrease available work because of automated cotton pickers and other new machines. Most workers were now coming out of mexico illegally. The 60s saw the rise Cesar Chavez, a man who was working to negotiate rights for farm workers. They're receiving new contracts that gave them better working and living conditions as well as better pay.

1970s and 1980s

The people that were in the agriculture business were mostly from Mexico and central America. Work had slowed down radically and wages went low employes didn't valued them as much as once did.

The Migrant Experience

A complex set of interacting forces both economic and ecological brought the migrant workers documented in this ethnographic collection to California. Following World War I, a recession led to a drop in the market price of farm crops and caused Great Plains farmers to increase their productivity through mechanization and the cultivation of more land. This increase in farming activity required an increase in spending that caused many farmers to become financially overextended. The stock market crash in 1929 only served to exacerbate this already tenuous economic situation. Many independent farmers lost their farms when banks came to collect on their notes, while tenant farmers were turned out when economic pressure was brought to bear on large landholders. The attempts of these displaced agricultural workers to find other work were met with frustration due to a 30 percent unemployment rate.

Frank and Myra Pipkin being recorded by Charles L. Todd at Shafter FSA Camp, Shafter, California, 1941. Photo by Robert Hemmig.

At the same time, the increase in farming activity placed greater strain on the land. As the naturally occurring grasslands of the southern Great Plains were replaced with cultivated fields, the rich soil lost its ability to retain moisture and nutrients and began to erode. Soil conservation practices were not widely employed by farmers during this era, so when a seven-year drought began in 1931, followed by the coming of dust storms in 1932, many of the farms literally dried up and blew away creating what became known as the "Dust Bowl." Driven by the Great Depression, drought, and dust storms, thousands of farmers packed up their families and made the difficult journey to California where they hoped to find work. Along with their meager belongings, the Dust Bowl refugees brought with them their inherited cultural expressions. It is this heritage that Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin captured on their documentation expedition to migrant work camps and other sites throughout California.

Why did so many of the refugees pin their hopes for a better life on California? One reason was that the state's mild climate allowed for a long growing season and a diversity of crops with staggered planting and harvesting cycles. For people whose lives had revolved around farming, this seemed like an ideal place to look for work. Popular songs and stories, circulating in oral tradition for decades (for more on this topic see "The Recording of Folk Music in Northern California" by Sidney Robertson Cowell), exaggerated these attributes, depicting California as a veritable promised land. In addition, flyers advertising a need for farm workers in the Southwest were distributed in areas hard hit by unemployment. An example of such a flyer, publicizing a need for cotton pickers in Arizona, is contained in Charles Todd's scrapbook. Finally, the country's major east-west thoroughfare, U.S. Highway 66 -- also known as "Route 66," "The Mother Road," "The Main Street of America," and "Will Rogers Highway" -- abetted the westward flight of the migrants. A trip of such length was not undertaken lightly in this pre-interstate era, and Highway 66 provided a direct route from the Dust Bowl region to an area just south of the Central Valley of California.

Myra Pipkin, age 46, holding grandchild, Shafter FSA Camp, Shafter, California, 1941. Photo by Robert Hemmig.

Although the Dust Bowl included many Great Plains states, the migrants were generically known as "Okies," referring to the approximately 20 percent who were from Oklahoma. The migrants represented in Voices from the Dust Bowl came primarily from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Most were of Anglo-American descent with family and cultural roots in the poor rural South. In the homes they left, few had been accustomed to living with modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing. The bulk of the people Todd and Sonkin interviewed shared conservative religious and political beliefs and were ethnocentric in their attitude toward other ethnic/cultural groups, with whom they had had little contact prior to their arrival in California. Such attitudes sometimes led to the use of derogatory language and negative stereotyping of cultural outsiders. Voices from the Dust Bowl illustrates certain universals of human experience: the trauma of dislocation from one's roots and homeplace the tenacity of a community's shared culture and the solidarity within and friction among folk groups. Such intergroup tension is further illustrated in this presentation by contemporary urban journalists' portrayals of rural life, California farmers' attitudes toward both Mexican and "Okie" workers, and discriminatory attitudes toward migrant workers in general.

Todd and Sonkin also held recording sessions with a few Mexican migrants living in the El Rio Farm Security Administration (FSA) camp. Unfortunately, the glass-based acetate discs on which the Spanish-language musical performances were recorded did not survive. However, photos from El Rio and interviews with Jose Flores and Augustus Martinez provide a glimpse into the lives and culture of non-Anglo farm workers. This material illustrates that Mexican immigrants had long been an integral part of agricultural production in the United States and were not newcomers on the scene even in 1940. In fact, when the Dust Bowl families arrived in California looking for work, the majority of migrant farm laborers were either Latino or Asian, particularly of Mexican and Filipino descent. Voices from the Dust Bowl is particularly relevant for us today since it demonstrates that living and working conditions of agricultural migrant laborers have changed little in the intervening half century.

Children of Mexican migrant workers posing at entrance to El Rio FSA Camp, El Rio, California, 1941. Photo by Robert Hemmig.

California was emphatically not the promised land of the migrants' dreams. Although the weather was comparatively balmy and farmers' fields were bountiful with produce, Californians also felt the effects of the Depression. Local and state infrastructures were already overburdened, and the steady stream of newly arriving migrants was more than the system could bear. After struggling to make it to California, many found themselves turned away at its borders. Those who did cross over into California found that the available labor pool was vastly disproportionate to the number of job openings that could be filled. Migrants who found employment soon learned that this surfeit of workers caused a significant reduction in the going wage rate. Even with an entire family working, migrants could not support themselves on these low wages. Many set up camps along irrigation ditches in the farmers' fields. These "ditchbank" camps fostered poor sanitary conditions and created a public health problem.

Arrival in California did not put an end to the migrants' travels. Their lives were characterized by transience. In an attempt to maintain a steady income, workers had to follow the harvest around the state. When potatoes were ready to be picked, the migrants needed to be where the potatoes were. The same principle applied to harvesting cotton, lemons, oranges, peas, and other crops. For this reason, migrant populations were most dense in agricultural centers. The territory covered by Todd and Sonkin in this project ranged from as far south as El Rio, just north of Oxnard, to as far north as Yuba City, north of Sacramento. Much of the documentation was concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Arvin Migratory Labor Camp was the first federally operated camp opened by the FSA in 1937 and the starting point of the Todd/Sonkin expedition. The camps were intended to resolve poor sanitation and public health problems, as well as to mitigate the burden placed on state and local infrastructures. The FSA camps also furnished the migrants with a safe space in which to retire from the discrimination that plagued them and in which to practice their culture and rekindle a sense of community. Although each camp had a small staff of administrators, much of the responsibility for daily operations and governance devolved to the campers themselves. Civil activities were carried out through camp councils and camp courts. Proceedings of council meetings and court sessions can be found among the audio files in this online presentation. Project fieldnotes provide further information about the composition, operation, and context of these bodies as well as details about camp occupancy and organization.

When they were not working or looking for work, or tending to the civil and domestic operations of the camp, the migrants found time to engage in recreational activities. Singing and making music took place both in private living quarters and in public spaces. The music performed by the migrants came from a number of different sources. The majority of pieces belong to the Anglo-Celtic ballad tradition. Songs such as "Barbara Allen", "The Brown Girl", "Nine Little Devils", "Father Rumble", "Lloyd Bateman ", "Pretty Molly ", and "Little Mohee" all reflect this tradition. Gospel and popular music are other sources from which migrants took their inspiration. The minstrel stage, tin pan alley, early country, and cowboy music were all popular music sources that fed the performers' repertoires. The works of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, and Gene Autry were particular favorites of the migrants. Although all the music in this collection gives us a sense of the informants' cultural milieu, those pieces that document the migrant experience are especially poignant. Songs like Jack Bryant's "Sunny Cal" and Mary Sullivan's ballads "A Traveler's Line" and "Sunny California" all speak of hardship, disappointment, and a deeply cherished wish to return home. In addition to songs and instrumental music, the migrants enjoyed dancing and play-party activities (singing games accompanied by dance-like movements). Included in this online presentation are square dance calls, such as "Soldier's Joy" and "Sally Goodin", and play-party rhymes like "Skip to My Lou" and "Old Joe Clark." Newsletters produced by camp residents provided additional details about camp social life and recreational activities.

As World War II wore on, the state of the economy, both in California and across the nation, improved dramatically as the defense industry geared up to meet the needs of the war effort. Many of the migrants went off to fight in the war. Those who were left behind took advantage of the job opportunities that had become available in West Coast shipyards and defense plants. As a result of this more stable lifestyle, numerous Dust Bowl refugees put down new roots in California soil, where their descendants reside to this day. Voices from the Dust Bowl provides a glimpse into the everyday life and cultural expression of a group of people living through a particularly difficult period in American history. Charles L. Todd's articles "The Okies Search for a Lost Frontier" and "Trampling out the Vintage: Farm Security Camps Provide the Imperial Valley Migrants with a Home and a Hope" give an overview of the historical, economic, and social context in which this collection was created.

Robin A. Fanslow
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress
April 6, 1998

What percentage of farm workers are Mexican?

​Demographic Characteristics of Hired Farmworkers

Item Farm laborers, graders and sorters Agriculture: All occupations
Percent Hispanic: Mexican origin 57 45
Percent Hispanic: Other 7 6
Percent born in U.S. (includes Puerto Rico) 45 57
Percent U.S. citizens 54 65

Migratory Workers - History

Migrant Farm Families
Photos with Original Captions

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) has been called America's greatest documentary photographer. She is best known for her chronicles of the Great Depression and for her photographs of migratory farm workers. Below are 42 pre-World War II photographs she created for the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) investigating living conditions of farm workers and their families in Western states such as California. Most of the workers had come west to escape the Dust Bowl, the lengthy drought which devastated millions of acres of farmland in Midwestern states such as Oklahoma.

Scenes from the Dust Bowl -- Left - A Dust Bowl farm. Coldwater District, north of Dalhart, Texas. This house is occupied most of the houses in this district have been abandoned. Mid - Drought-stricken farmer and family near Muskogee, Oklahoma. Agricultural day laborer. Muskogee County. Right - Furrowing against the wind to check the drift of sand. Dust Bowl, north of Dalhart, Texas.

On the Road -- Left - Family walking on highway, five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma. Bound for Krebs, Oklahoma. Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. In 1936 the father farmed on thirds and fourths at Eagleton, McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Was taken sick with pneumonia and lost farm. Unable to get work on Work Projects Administration and refused county relief in county of fifteen years residence because of temporary residence in another county after his illness. Mid - Wagoner County, Oklahoma. Right - The highway going West. U.S. 80 near Lordsburg, New Mexico.

California at Last -- Left - Example of self-resettlement in California. Oklahoma farm family on highway between Blythe and Indio. Forced by the drought of 1936 to abandon their farm, they set out with their children to drive to California. Picking cotton in Arizona for a day or two at a time gave them enough for food and gas to continue. On this day, they were within a day's travel of their destination, Bakersfield, California. Their car had broken down en route and was abandoned. Mid - Four families, three of them related with fifteen children, from the Dust Bowl in Texas in an overnight roadside camp near Calipatria, California. Right - Billboard along U.S. 99 behind which three destitute families of migrants are camped. Kern County, California.

Tents as Home -- Left - Drought refugees from Texas encamped in California near Exeter. Seven in family. Mid - Brawley, Imperial Valley, In Farm Security Administration (FSA) migratory labor camp. Right - In a carrot pullers' camp near Holtville, California.

Waiting for Work -- Left - 1936 drought refugee from Polk, Missouri. Awaiting the opening of orange picking season at Porterville, California. Mid - Old time professional migratory laborer camping on the outskirts of Perryton, Texas at opening of wheat harvest. With his wife and growing family, he has been on the road since marriage, thirteen years ago. Migrations include ranch land in Texas, cotton and wheat in Texas, cotton and timber in New Mexico, peas and potatoes in Idaho, wheat in Colorado, hops and apples in Yakima Valley, Washington, cotton in Arizona. He wants to buy a little place in Idaho. Right - Ex-tenant farmer from Texas, came to work in the fruit and vegetable harvests. Coachella Valley, California.

In the Fields -- Left - Near Meloland, Imperial Valley. Large scale agriculture. Gang labor, Mexican and white, from the Southwest. Pull, clean, tie and crate carrots for the eastern market for eleven cents per crate of forty-eight bunches. Many can make barely one dollar a day. Heavy oversupply of labor and competition for jobs is keen. Mid - Carrot pullers from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Mexico. Coachella Valley, California. "We come from all states and we can't make a dollar a day in this field noways. Working from seven in the morning till twelve noon we earn an average of thirty five cents." Right - Cabbage cutting and hauling by new Vessey (flat truck) system, now also used in carrots and lettuce. Imperial Valley, California.

Little Money -- Left - Pea pickers from Vermont - 6 weeks earnings $7.00 - at squatter's camp, Nipomo. Mid - Waiting for the semimonthly relief checks at Calipatria, Imperial Valley, California. Typical story: fifteen years ago they owned farms in Oklahoma. Lost them through foreclosure when cotton prices fell after the war. Became tenants and sharecroppers. With the drought and dust they came West, 1934-1937. Never before left the county where they were born. Now although in California over a year they haven't been continuously resident in any single county long enough to become a legal resident. Reason: migratory agricultural laborers. Right - Ex-tenant farmer on relief grant in the Imperial Valley, California.

Toll of Uncertainty -- Left - Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Mid - Children of Oklahoma drought refugee in migratory camp in California. Right - A mother in California who with her husband and her two children will be returned to Oklahoma by the Relief Administration. This family had lost a two-year-old baby during the winter as a result of exposure.

Unhealthy Lifestyle -- Left - Migrant workers' camp, outskirts of Marysville, California. The new migratory camps now being built by the Resettlement Administration will remove people from unsatisfactory living conditions such as these and substitute at least the minimum of comfort and sanitation. Mid - Son of destitute migrant, American River camp, near Sacramento, California. The boy has dysentery. Right - Water supply: an open settling basin from the irrigation ditch in a California squatter camp near Calipatria.

Childhood Interrupted -- Left - Sick migrant child. Washington, Yakima Valley, Toppenish. Mid - Migratory boy in squatter camp. Has come to Yakima Valley for the third year to pick hops. Mother: "You'd be surprised what that boy can pick." Washington, Yakima Valley. Right - Washington, Yakima Valley, near Wapato. One of Chris Adolph's younger children. Farm Security Administration Rehabilitation clients.

On the Move -- Left - Car on siding across tracks from pea packing plant. Twenty-five year old itinerant, originally from Oregon. "On the road eight years, all over the country, every state in the union, back and forth, pick up a job here and there, travelling all the time." Calipatria, Imperial Valley. Mid - Calipatria, Imperial Valley. Idle pea pickers discuss prospects for work. California. Right - Family who traveled by freight train. Washington, Toppenish, Yakima Valley.

Finding Alternatives -- Left - Entering Farm Security Administration (FSA) camp for migratory laborers at Indio. Coachella Valley, California. Mid - Heads of families on the Mineral King cooperative farm. Ten families are now established on this 500-acre ranch to be operated as a unit. (Farm Security Administration) Tulare County, California. Right - Family living in tent while building the house around them. Near Klamath Falls, Klamath county, Oregon.

Striving for Normalcy -- Left - Ball game. Shafter migrant camp. California. Mid - Water supply, American River camp, California, San Joaquin Valley. Right - Eight boys at Lincoln Bench School. Born in six states. Near Ontario, Malheur County, Oregon.

Enduring Life -- Left- Migrant children. Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon. In unit of FSA (Farm Security Administration) mobile camp. Mid - Migrant worker on California highway. Right - Billboard on U.S. Highway 99 in California. National advertising campaign sponsored by National Association of Manufacturers.

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Canada Edit

Foreign nationals are accepted into Canada on a temporary basis if they have a student visa, are seeking asylum, or under special permits. The largest category however is called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), under which workers are brought to Canada by their employers for specific jobs. [6] In 2006, there were a total of 265,000 foreign workers in Canada. Amongst those of working age, there was a 118% increase from 1996. By 2008, the intake of non-permanent immigrants (399,523, the majority of whom are TFWs), had overtaken the intake of permanent immigrants (247,243). [7] In order to hire foreign workers, Canadian employers must acquire a Labour Market Impact Assessment administered by Employment and Social Development Canada. .

United States Edit

The United States issues a number of employment-based immigrant visas. These include the H-1B visa to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, and the H-2A visa for temporary agricultural work.

Over one million undocumented immigrants work in agriculture in the United States, while roughly 250,000 are admitted under the H-2A visa, as of 2019. [8]

Green card workers are individuals who have requested and received legal permanent residence in the United States from the government and who intend to work in the United States on a permanent basis. The United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery program authorizes up to 50,000 immigrant visas to be granted each year. This help facilitate foreign nationals with low rates of immigration to the United States a chance to participate in a random drawing for the possibility of obtaining an immigration visa. [9]

Germany Edit

In Nazi Germany, from 1940 to 1942, Organization Todt began its reliance on guest workers, military internees, Zivilarbeiter (civilian workers), Ostarbeiter (Eastern workers) and Hilfswillige ("volunteer") POW workers.

The great migration phase of labor migrants in the 20th century began in Germany during the 1950s, as the sovereign Germany, since 1955 after repeated pressure from NATO partners, has yielded to the request for closure of the so-called 'Anwerbe' Agreement (German: Anwerbeabkommen). The initial plan was a rotation principle: a temporary stay (usually two to three years), followed by a return to their homeland. The rotation principle proved inefficient for the industry because experienced workers were constantly replaced by inexperienced ones. The companies asked for legislation to extend the residence permits. Many of the foreign workers were followed by their families in the following period and stayed. Until the 1970s, more than four million migrant workers and their families thus came to Germany, mainly from the Mediterranean countries of the former Yugoslavia and Turkey.

Since about 1990, the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the enlargement of the European Union allowed guest workers from Eastern Europe to Western Europe. Some host countries set up a program to invite guest workers, as did the West Germany from 1955 to 1973, when over one million guest workers (German: Gastarbeiter) arrived, mostly from Turkey.

Switzerland Edit

The underestimation of the required integration services by the state and the society of the host countries, but also by the migrants themselves. Switzerland's transformation into a country of immigration was not until after the accelerated industrialization in the second half of the 19th century. Switzerland was no longer a purely rural Alpine area but became a European vanguard in various industries at that time, first of textile, later also the mechanical and chemical industries. Since the middle of the 19th century especially German academics, self-employed and craftsmen, but also Italians, who found a job in science, industry, construction and infrastructure construction migrated to Switzerland. [10]

Asia Edit

In Asia, some countries in South and Southeast Asia offer workers. Their destinations include Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.

Foreign workers from selected Asian countries, by destination, 2010-11: Thousands [11]
Source Country
Destination Nepal Bangladesh Indonesia Sri Lanka Thailand India Pakistan Philippines Vietnam
Brunei 2 11 3 1 66 8
Taiwan 76 48 37 28
Hong Kong 50 3 22 101
Malaysia 106 1 134 4 4 21 2 10 12
Singapore 39 48 1 11 16 70 0
Japan 1 0 2 0 9 - 45 6 5
South Korea 4 3 11 5 11 - 2 12 9

Middle East Edit

In 1973, an oil boom in the Persian Gulf region (UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, which comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council), created an unprecedented demand for labor in the oil, construction and industrial sectors. [12] Development demanded a labor force. This demand was met by foreign workers, primarily those from the Arab states, with a later shift to those from Asia-Pacific countries. [13] A rise in the standards of living for citizens of Middle Eastern countries also created a demand for domestic workers in the home.

Since the 1970s, foreign workers have become a large percentage of the population in most nations in the Persian Gulf region. Growing competition with nationals in the job sector, along with complaints regarding treatment of foreign workers, have led to rising tensions between the national and foreign populations in these nations.

Remittances are becoming a prominent source of external funding for countries that contribute foreign workers to the countries of the GCC. On average, the top recipients globally are India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. In 2001, $72.3 billion was returned as remittances to the countries of origin of foreign workers, equivalent to 1.3% of the world GDP. The source of income remains beneficial as remittances are often more stable that private capital flows. Despite fluctuations in the economy of GCC countries, the amount of dollars in remittances is usually stable. [14]

The spending of remittances is seen in two ways. Principally, remittances are sent to the families of guest workers. Though often put towards consumption, remittances are also directed to investment. Investment is seen to lead to the strengthening of infrastructure and facilitating international travel. [14]

With this jump in earnings, one benefit that has been seen is the nutritional improvement in households of migrant workers. Other benefits are the lessening of underemployment and unemployment. [15]

In detailed studies of Pakistani migrants to the Middle East in the early 1980s, the average foreign worker was of age 25–40 years. 70 percent were married, while only 4 percent were accompanied by families. Two thirds hailed from rural areas, and 83 percent were production workers. At the time, 40 percent of Pakistan's foreign exchange earnings came from its migrant workers. [15]

Domestic work is the single most important category of employment among women migrants to the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, as well as to Lebanon and Jordan. The increase of Arab women in the labour force, and changing conceptions of women's responsibilities, have resulted in a shift in household responsibilities to hired domestic workers. Domestic workers perform an array of work in the home: cleaning, cooking, child care, and elder care. Common traits of the work include an average 100-hour work week and virtually non-existent overtime pay. Remuneration differs greatly according to nationality, oftentimes depending on language skills and education level. This is seen with Filipina domestic workers receiving a higher remuneration than Sri Lankan and Ethiopian nationals. [16]

Saudi Arabia is the largest source of remittance payments in the world. Remittance payments from Saudi Arabia, similar to other GCC countries, rose during the oil boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s, but declined in the mid-1980s. As oil prices fell, budget deficits mounted, and most governments of GCC countries put limits on hiring foreign workers. Weaknesses in the financial sector and in government administration impose substantial transaction costs on migrant workers who send them. Costs, although difficult to estimate, consist of salaries and the increased spending required to expand educational and health services, housing, roads, communications, and other infrastructure to accommodate the basic needs of the newcomers. The foreign labor force is a substantial drain of the GCC states' hard currency earnings, with remittances to migrants' home countries in the early 2000s amounting to $27 billion per year, including $16 billion from Saudi Arabia alone. It has been shown that the percentage of the GDP that foreign labor generates is roughly equal to what the state has to spend on them. [14]

The main concerns of developed countries regarding immigration centers are: (1) the local job seekers' fear of competition from migrant workers, (2) the fiscal burden that may result on native taxpayers for providing health and social services to migrants, (3) fears of erosion of cultural identity and problems of assimilation of immigrants, and (4) national security. [14]

In immigrant-producing countries, individuals with less than a high school education continue to be a fiscal burden into the next generation. Skilled workers, however, pay more in taxes than what they receive in social spending from the state. Emigration of highly skilled workers has been linked to skill shortages, reductions in output, and tax shortfalls in many developing countries. These burdens are even more apparent in countries where educated workers emigrated in large numbers after receiving a highly subsidized technical education. [14] "Brain Drain refers to the emigration (out-migration) of knowledgeable, well-educated and skilled professionals from their home country to another country, [usually because of] better job opportunities in the new country." [17]

As of 2007, 10 million workers from Southeast Asia, South Asia, or Africa live and work in the countries of the Persian Gulf region. [16] Xenophobia in receiving nations is often rampant, as menial work is often allocated only to foreign workers. Expatriate labor is treated with prejudice in host countries despite government attempts to eradicate malpractice and exploitation of workers. Emigrants are offered substandard wages and living conditions and are compelled to work overtime without extra payment. With regards to injuries and death, workers or their dependents are not paid due compensation. Citizenship is rarely offered and labor can oftentimes be acquired below the legal minimum wage. Foreign workers often lack access to local labor markets. Oftentimes these workers are legally attached to a sponsor/employer until completion of their employment contract, after which a worker must either renew a permit or leave the country. [12]

Racism is prevalent towards migrant workers. With an increasing number of unskilled workers from Asia and Africa, the market for foreign workers became increasingly racialized, and dangerous or "dirty" jobs became associated with Asian and African workers noted by the term "Abed", meaning dark skin. [15]

Foreign workers migrate to the Middle East as contract workers by means of the kafala, or "sponsorship" system. [18] Migrant work is typically for a period of two years. [13] Recruitment agencies in sending countries are the main contributors of labor to GCC countries. Through these agencies, sponsors must pay a fee to the recruiter and pay for the worker's round-trip airfare, visas, permits, and wages. Recruiters charge high fees to prospective employees to obtain employment visas, averaging between $2,000 and $2,500 in such countries as Bangladesh and India. Contract disputes are also common. In Saudi Arabia, foreign workers must have employment contracts written in Arabic and have them signed by both the sponsor and themselves in order to be issued a work permit. With other GCC countries, such as Kuwait, contracts may be written or oral. [18]

Dependence on the sponsor (kafeel) naturally creates room for violations of the rights of foreign workers. [18] Debt causes workers to work for a certain period of time without a salary to cover these fees. This bondage encourages the practice of international labour migration as women in situations of poverty are able to find jobs overseas and pay off their debts through work. [16] It is common for the employer or the sponsor to retain the employee's passport and other identity papers as a form of insurance for the amount an employer has paid for the worker's work permit and airfare. Kafeels sell visas to the foreign worker with the unwritten understanding that the foreigner can work for an employer other than the sponsor. [18]

When a two-year work period is over, or with a job loss, workers must find another employer willing to sponsor them, or return to their nation of origin within a short time. Failing to do this entails imprisonment for violation of immigration laws. Protections are nearly non-existent for migrant workers. [16]

The population in the current GCC states has grown more than eight times during 50 years. Foreign workers have become the primary, dominant labor force in most sectors of the economy and the government bureaucracy. With rising unemployment, GCC governments embarked on the formulation of labor market strategies to improve this situation, to create sufficient employment opportunities for nationals, and to limit the dependence on expatriate labor. Restrictions have been imposed: the sponsorship system, the rotational system of expatriate labor to limit the duration of foreigners' stay, curbs on naturalization and the rights of those who have been naturalized, etc. This has also led to efforts to improve the education and training of nationals. Localization remains low among the private sector, however. This is due to the traditionally low income the sector offers. Also included are long working hours, a competitive work environment, and a need to recognize an expatriate supervisor, often difficult to accept. [13]

In 2005, low-paid Asian workers staged protests, some of them violent, in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar for not receiving salaries on time. In March 2006, hundreds of mostly south Asian construction workers stopped work and went on a rampage in Dubai, UAE, to protest their harsh working conditions, low or delayed pay, and general lack of rights. Sexual harassment of Filipina housemaids by local employers, especially in Saudi Arabia, has become a serious matter. In recent years, this has resulted in a ban on migration of females under 21. Such nations as Indonesia have noted the maltreatment of women in the GCC states, with the government calling for an end to the sending of housemaids altogether. [12] In GCC countries, a chief concern with foreign domestic workers is childcare without the desired emphasis on Islamic and Arabic values. [16]

Possible developments in the future include a slowdown in the growth of foreign labor. One contributor to this is a dramatic change in demographic trends. The growing birth rate of nationals in the GCC states will lead to a more competitive workforce in the future. [13] This could also lead to a rise in the numbers of national women in the workforce.

European Union Edit

In 2016, around 7.14% (15.885.300 people) of total EU employment were not citizens, 3.61% (8.143.800) were from another EU Member State, 3.53% (7.741.500) were from a non-EU country. Switzerland 0.53%, France 0.65%, Spain 0.88%, Italy 1.08%, United Kingdom 1.46%, Germany 1.81% (until 1990 former territory of the FRG) were countries where more than 0.5% of employees were not citizens. United Kingdom 0.91%, Germany 0.94% (until 1990 former territory of the FRG) are countries where more than 0.9% of employees were from non-EU countries. countries with more than 0.5% employees were from another EU country were Spain 0.54%, United Kingdom 0.55%, Italy 0.72%, Germany (until 1990 former territory of the FRG) 0.87%. [19] [20]

Migrant Farm Workers: Our Nation's Invisible Population

Between 1 and 3 million migrant farm workers leave their homes every year to plant, cultivate, harvest, and pack fruits, vegetables and nuts in the U.S. Although invisible to most people, the presence of migrant farm workers in many rural communities throughout the nation is undeniable, since hand labor is still necessary for the production of the blemish-free fruits and vegetables that consumers demand

Who are Migrant Farm workers?

Migrant farm workers are predominantly Mexican-born sons, husbands, and fathers who leave what is familiar and comfortable with the hopes and dreams of making enough money to support their families back home feed themselves purchase land and a home and – like many immigrants who came before them – ultimately return to their homeland. While others come from countries such as Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other states in the United States their aspirations remain the same. They are young, averaging about 31 years of age. Some arrive as single men, while others leave their families behind while they seek work and others travel and work with their families. For those who travel without their families, once they realize that they will need to maintain their U.S. earning capacity, they would much rather have their families settle with them in the U.S. More than half of all farm workers – 52 of every 100 – are unauthorized workers with no legal status in the United States.

Many farm workers arrive with solid agricultural skills firmly grounded in practical experience and working knowledge of agriculture. This expertise is complemented by a strong work ethic, deeply rooted in their commitment to provide for their families or make it on their own. This is reflected in their willingness to make considerable sacrifices in order to guarantee a more prosperous future for their extended families, their children and/or their siblings. These sacrifices range from separation from their countries of origins, families, and what is familiar to learning to navigate a foreign land where little is known about them and whose customs, language, foods, and ways of life are different from what they know. In many instances this new place brings about feelings of alienation and isolation. No longer is La Plaza – a central gathering place in town for community interaction and fellowship in their countries of origin – available to them. Instead loneliness creeps in for many as they are limited to the boundaries of the farm due in part to limited access to transportation and also to their lack of legal status which reduce their access to neighborhood businesses, services and community activities in general. Fear of being picked up by Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) due to their undocumented status causes many farm workers to go into hiding in the communities that they work and live in and further contributes to the isolation that farm workers routinely experience. So in many ways, Migrant farm workers work in settings that do not mirror those of the majority of the nation’s working populace.

In spite of these challenges, for many the hopes and dreams of making more money in the U.S than in their countries of origin is enough to drive them to make this enormous sacrifice. Many experience great pride in the contribution that they make to society through their labor for they realize their work feeds the world. For these farm workers there is also a sense of accomplishment in their ability to support their families in purchasing homes or going to school in their home country. For others, their hopes and dreams do not always materialize to the degree envisioned and promised with 61 percent of U.S. farm workers’ income falling below the poverty level. A median income of less than $7500 a year leave many feeling trapped with no other viable options outside of formwork and with the shame and indignity of returning to their homelands with less than what they came.

A host of push-pull factors contribute to the overwhelmingly immigrant farm worker labor pool. Some push factors in farm workers’ countries of origin are economic instability, political unrest, population growth, land reform shortcomings in rural areas, and scarce employment opportunities. Push factors that impact immigration patterns vary from country to country and from individual to individual. This is to say that the circumstances that cause an individual to emigrate from Colombia, South America may be different from those that cause an indigenous person from the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca, or Guanajuato in Mexico to come to the United States. A Colombian immigrant fleeing political persecution and civil unrest seeks asylum as a political refugee, while the indigenous Mexican treks across the desert into the US in search of work and income to support their family back home or just to be able to eat.

Pull factors within the United States include the ongoing desire for a low cost labor force to fill jobs no longer attractive to US citizens due to low pay, limited or no benefits and/or substandard work conditions. Other more direct pull factors have included federally enacted and administered farm labor programs such as the Bracero contract labor program that recruited workers from Mexico to harvest crops in the Southwestern United States from 1942 – 1964. Today, larger numbers of Mexican farm workers have moved into other regions of the country, including the Northeast, through a similar farm labor contract program known as the H-2A agricultural guest worker program enacted by Congress in 1952 and more widely used when the Bracero program ended in 1964.

One of the key dynamics that detrimentally impacts the lives of migrant farm workers is their lack of legal status within the U.S. Unlike other immigrant groups that came before them these workers have not been granted legal status to live in the U.S. The undocumented status of an overwhelming number of farm workers has given way to increasing injustice and abuse against them. While not always making headlines, reports of injustice and abuse against farm workers abound including those of opportunistic crew leaders, substandard housing, violence against farm workers by community members of the dominant culture, exclusion from labor laws, inadequate housing, pesticide violations, and the inferior education of children of farm workers. Out of fear of displacement and deportation, farm workers often remain unable to protest inadequate conditions or report employer’s violation of labor, health or safety laws to state authorities. Furthermore, despite their overwhelming representation and contribution to the agricultural community, farm workers lack political leverage, therefore remaining a disenfranchised population. This lack of legal status sets the stage for farm workers’ lack of voice, agency and advocacy – in essence it creates their invisibility.

The Changing Face of Immigrants

As we continue to grow as a nation of immigrants, we need to make an extraordinary effort to understand farm workers in their full context. The legacy and lingering effects of living in a divided society have left us with incomplete, inaccurate and distorted information as to the history, triumphs and contributions of different groups within our society. As a nation built on the sacrifices of many different immigrant groups we must bear in mind that while the faces of immigrants have changed, their pioneering spirit, courage, determination, ability to thrive, and dreams of securing a better future for their children remain the same.

Finding from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 1997-1998: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farm workers US Department of Labor.

The Human Cost of Food: Farm workers lives, labor and advocacy Edited by Charles D. Thompson and Melinda Wiggings Working Poor: Farm workers in the United States by David Griffith and Ed Kissam.

Coming Up on the Season – Farm workers in the United States and Farmerworkers in New York State by Kay Embrey.

What Did American Migrant Workers Do in 1930?

In 1930 and during the subsequent decade, 2.5 million migrant workers left the Plains states due to the destruction caused by the so-called Dust Bowl. Between 200,000 and 1.3 million of these migrant workers moved to California, where they became seasonal farm laborers.

Approximately 40 percent of the migrant workers who migrated to California ended up picking cotton and grapes in the state's central San Joaquin Valley, where they displaced hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Mexico. Migrant workers in the San Joaquin Valley earned 75 cents to $1.25 per day, but often had to return much of their earnings to the corporate-owned farms on which they worked in order to rent a shack to sleep in and to buy food from the company store.

Many of the migrant workers had owned their own small farms in the Plains states and hoped to save enough money to start their own farms in California. However, as many as one-third of migrant workers in 1930 and the subsequent decade were white-collar workers and professionals who had lost their jobs due to the Great Depression and moved west to seek a better life.

Extreme drought conditions brought on the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, in which topsoil in Oklahoma, north Texas and neighboring states blew away in large quantities, destroying the formerly productive agriculture of the region.

Library Exhibits

Upon crossing the bridge from Mexico, men were led through a makeshift booth, and sprayed with DDT by Department of Agriculture personnel. Photograph by Leonard Nadel, 1956
Courtesy of Leonard Nadel Bracero Photograph Collection, Division of Work & Industry, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The Bracero program was a guest worker initiative that spanned the years 1942-1964. The program stemmed from a shortage of labor needed for agriculture and railway maintenance, as many American men left the U.S. to fight in World War II. A treaty signed by the U.S. and Mexico in 1942 allowed Mexican workers to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis to fill the worker shortage. During this period, an estimated 4.6 million Mexican agricultural workers crossed the border under the program to work in more than half of the states in America.

Many of these workers faced a range of abuses, including discrimination, poor living conditions and inadequate housing, and many were cheated out of their wages.

Bracero is a Spanish term which can be defined loosely as “one who works with his arms,” or as a close equivalent, a field hand.

The make-up of Hispanics/Latino subgroups in the U.S. is often misunderstood. Many assume that the majority of Latinos in the U.S. are foreign-born, when the actual proportion is about one-third. A very small proportion of Latinos are farm workers, and many farm workers are from other racial/ethnic groups. The U.S. Census offers data on the population, including this report The Hispanic Population: 2010. (PDF)

Mexican women arriving and unloading truck at spinach field, La Pryor, Texas, March 1939. Photographer: Russell Lee
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration Collection, LC-USF33-012038-M1

Mexicans entering the United States immigration station, El Paso, Texas, June 1938, photograph by Dorothea Lange
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8b32436

Cramped El Bracero living quarters, photograph by Leonard Nadel, 1956
Courtesy of Leonard Nadel Bracero Photograph Collection, Division of Work & Industry, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Standard El Bracero work contract between federal governments of Mexico and the U.S.
Courtesy of Leonard Nadel Bracero Photograph Collection, Division of Work & Industry, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Further Reading

Newman, K. L., Leon, J. S., & Newman, L. S. (2015). Estimating occupational illness, injury, and mortality in food production in the United States: A farm-to-table analysis. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(7), 718–725.

Arcury, T. A., Trejo, G., Suerken, C. K., Grzywacz, J. G., Ip, E. H., & Quandt, S. A. (2015). Work and Health among Latina Mothers in Farmworker Families. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(3), 292–299.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worker illness related to ground application of pesticide--Kern County, California, 2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2006 May 555(17):486-8.