In Mexico there are approximately 2.5 million migrant workers in the agricultural industry who regularly migrate from southern states to the north. On the other hand, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) certified 257,667 H-2A positions for temporary agricultural workers in 2019, which allows migrants to work temporarily in the agricultural industry in the United States.
About 75% of these visas were issued to mexican workers. Often, workers who obtain these visas have to pay high fees or travel expenses to get to the US, leaving them saddled with debt even before they start to work. Once in the US, the working conditions are often not the same as promised. Farmworkers in Mexico are also part of the transnational supply chain, as 60% of Mexico’s agricultural exports are destined for the United States.
Labor mobility in both contexts comes at a price for both migrant agricultural workers and the private sector if it is not properly regulated.
Recently, Periplo’s partner organizations have documented a disturbing number of cases of migrant agricultural workers exploitation, including discrimination during recruitment, illegal fees charges and fraud, denial of access to health services and decent housing, lack of social benefits, delayed or unpaid wages, and abusive behavior by recruiters and employers.
Periplo focuses particularly on women, who make up about one-third of the migrant agricultural workforce in the US. In Mexico, of the 2 million 330 thousand 305 people who worked as agricultural laborers in 2020, 12.7% were women. It is they who endure the greatest difficulties, as they are often subjected to sexual harassment by supervisors, employers and others in positions of power.
The COVID-19 health crisis underlines the importance of the agricultural sector to the economies of both Mexico and the United States. The pandemic, however, has highlighted the sector’s inequitable working conditions. Despite the fact that they are classified in the US as essential workers, migrant agricultural workers are often employed precariously and so are ineligible for sick leave or COVID-19 relief payments. In Mexico, migrant agricultural workers have even been excluded from the government’s National Vaccination Campaign, because they are continuously moving or lack the required documentation.