A troubled guest farm worker system in the U.K.

I recently posted on discussion in the U.S. about a guest worker program, the Seasonal Workers Pilot. The United Kingdom introduced such a program which has horrible results, as reported by the Financial Times. Excerpts:

Two labour providers, Concordia and Pro-Force, are permitted to recruit people from places such as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to work in edible horticulture on strict six-month visas. The pilot started in 2019 with an annual quota of 2,500 workers. It was extended to 10,000 workers in 2020 and to 30,000 workers in 2021, with an additional two recruitment agencies set to be added.

The workers on the farm that employed Russia [one worker from Russia], Castleton Fruit in north-east Scotland, were on zero-hour contracts, which do not guarantee any work, and were paid for the amount of fruit they picked rather than by the hour. Under the law, pickers on this “piece rate” system must be “topped up” to the minimum wage of £8.72 [$12.10] an hour if they have not picked enough to earn this amount. Because of this, the supervisors would check everyone’s work every two hours, and the workers who had not picked fast enough would be sent back to the caravans for the rest of the day, unable to earn any more money.

Between March 2020 and February 2021, Focus on Labour Exploitation, an NGO, investigated the experience of workers in Scotland on the pilot programme, in a project part-funded by the Scottish government. FLEX surveyed 84 farm workers and interviewed 62 on 12 different farms, of which 39 were on the scheme.

The researchers found that more than half were on piece rates, and three-quarters felt like they were always or usually being pushed to do more work than was possible in the time they had. Two-thirds reported receiving threats of loss of work, 60 per cent said the information they were given about earnings before travelling proved inaccurate, and a similar proportion said they were refused transfers to other farms.

A Home Office minister stated in a written parliamentary answer in 2019 that “the scheme operators are not permitted to offer zero-hours contracts to workers” but the Financial Times has seen worker contracts that do not guarantee any hours, including one titled “Terms and conditions of zero hours employment”.

Research suggests that, over the course of decades, UK farmers have intensified these jobs in response to the rising minimum wage and the pressure from powerful supermarkets for flexibility, speed and low prices. For example, according to British Summer Fruits, an industry body, government data suggest that prices paid to farms for strawberries barely rose between 2008 and 2018. The UK has some of the lowest food prices in western Europe.


 

Central American governments and emigration to US

Juan Orlando Herandez. president of Honduras, was an unindicted co-conspirator in his brother’s trial for drug smuggling into the U.S., and has been reported to having accepted bribes from drug smugglers. Three former attorneys general from Guatemala and El Salvador who have been forced into exile over the past four years.

Excerpts from an article on Central America:

Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are not just poor and violent; they are beset by corruption and ineffectual, often predatory governance. On nearly all of the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, including the effectiveness of government, rule of law, and control of corruption, countries in northern Central America lag well behind even their Latin American and Caribbean peers.

Over the past three decades, irregular migration from northern Central America has steadily grown, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of non-Mexicans (predominantly Central Americans) apprehended at the southern U.S. border—from the low 10,000s in the 1990s to nearly 700,000 in fiscal year 2019. The Biden administration is now bracing for even more irregular migration across the U.S.-Mexican border. Through a series of executive actions, it has begun to reform antiquated border-processing infrastructure and the overtaxed asylum system, slowly unwinding Trump-era policies that eliminated migrants’ ability to claim asylum at the U.S. border and crippled the already limited capacity to deal with increased migration.

The United States cannot, of course, impose change. Rather, it should lift up local actors who are already responding to legitimate, popular demands for better governance. Where governments are open to reform, such as empowering national prosecutors to root out corruption and reforming laws to allow for the collection of more income and wealth taxes, Washington should provide political and technical support for those efforts. But where corrupt governing elites are resistant to change, Washington should partner with civil society.

The Trump administration turned its back on anticorruption efforts led by three former attorneys general from Guatemala and El Salvador, who have been forced into exile over the past four years. The United States must never betray such officials again. Instead, it should create a protection program to allow vulnerable officials and civil society leaders to seek refuge in the United States, signaling clearly that such actors are U.S. allies.

From Central Americans Are Fleeing Bad Governments To Stanch Migration, Washington Must Address a Deeper Crisis, By Dan Restrepo

Construction workforce woes and immigrants

Besides farming and STEM jobs, immigrants have supported the residential construction industry, which is now facing a shortage of workers.

Foreign-born workers now account for almost a quarter of workers in the construction industry, and close to 30% of construction tradesmen. In some states, reliance on foreign-born labor is even more pronounced. Immigrants comprise close to 40% of the construction workforce in California and Texas. In Florida, New Jersey and New York, close to 37% of the construction labor force is foreign-born and in Nevada, one out of three construction industry workers come from abroad. (From here. Also here.)

Legend for table:
A carpenters
B laborers
C painters and paper hangers
D carpet installers
E brick masons
F drywall workers
G roofers

Source of data on trades here.

How immigration wonks are talking about the border crisis

Here is a quick summary with links to articles published in the past two months about the Mexican border, written mostly not by journalists but rather immigration wonks.

Overall crisis management failure: The Bipartisan Policy Center calls for new legislation which enable “a presidential declaration of an extraordinary migration event,” and would mandate FEMA-like action involving coordination of many agencies.

Missteps by Obama and Trump. The Migration Policy Institute reviews the painful story of the past two administrations, both of which include failure to improve the management of immigration courts.

Better management of the courts. Again, we are back to the courts. I am deeply skeptical of court systems to respond quickly to events, even if these events are predictable and repeated. NPR reports on a potential Biden policy on how courts are assigned cases. NPR reports that “There are currently about 530 judges in the immigration courts that handle a caseload that is now backed up to more than 1.2 million cases, according to the Justice Department. Meanwhile, the asylum office that could take on some of those cases under this plan has about 860 officers and a pending caseload of about 350,000, according to the Department of Homeland Security.” Migrants with court cases can expect to be allowed to stay in the U.S. for several years before their cases are called.

Unaccompanied children shelters. Pro Publica writes that “After ignoring signs that shelters were filling quickly, agencies are scrambling to get thousands of kids out of Border Patrol jails. But new “emergency” facilities skirt safety standards, while facilities accused of abuse are still getting grants.”

Deja vue on asylum surges. Each surge different, each one the same. WOLA says that “At the moment, unaccompanied children (apart from unaccompanied Mexican children) are the only population that stand a 100 percent chance of being released into the United States to start an asylum process while living with relatives. (Families seem to have stood about a 40 percent chance in February.)
This is the fourth time that we’ve seen a significant increase in unaccompanied child and child-and-family migration at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2014. 

Hard core immigration stances of Americans

A research team wrote, “Our goal was to assess U.S. citizens’ mental models of immigration, i.e., their beliefs and attitudes towards it, but also their perceptions of the risks and benefits it poses…. Research shows that when perceived threat and social identity become involved, our policy stances can become sacralized, transforming into absolutist, moralized, non-negotiable values. These sacred values do not operate like regular values, which can be reevaluated if one is willing to make trade-offs….Social identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s). Group norms are the informal rules that govern behavior in a group. They set expectations of how to behave, whether in terms of eating a meal or interacting with outsiders.”

The top three sacralized open (i.e. immigration incluseive) stances are:

— Stopping family separation (47% of respondants cited this, the most strongly felt issue of inclusivists).
— Being a nation of immigrants (rather than preserving a white and Christian culture) (37%)
— Stopping construction of the border wall (33%)

The top three sacralized immigration restrictive stances are:

— Withholding public benefits from unauthorized immigrants (33% of respondents, the most strongly felt issue of restrictionists)
—Stopping undocumented immigration (22%)
—Continuing to build the border wall (21%)

From “What Immigration Issues Do Americans Hold Sacred? A Psychological Journey into American Attitudes Towards Immigrants” by Nichole Argo, Ph.D. and Kate Jassin, Ph.D.