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Immigration Restrictions as Active Labor Market Policy: Evidence from the Mexican Bracero Exclusion


  • Clemens, Michael A.

    () (Center for Global Development)

  • Lewis, Ethan Gatewood

    () (Dartmouth College)

  • Postel, Hannah M.

    () (Princeton University)


An important class of active labor market policy has received little rigorous impact evaluation: immigration barriers intended to improve the terms of employment for domestic workers by deliberately shrinking the workforce. Recent advances in the theory of endogenous technical change suggest that such policies could have limited or even perverse labor-market effects, but empirical tests are scarce. We study a natural experiment that excluded almost half a million Mexican 'bracero' seasonal agricultural workers from the United States, with the stated goal of raising wages and employment for domestic farm workers. We build a simple model to clarify how the labor-market effects of bracero exclusion depend on assumptions about production technology, and test it by collecting novel archival data on the bracero program that allow us to measure state-level exposure to exclusion for the first time. We cannot reject the hypothesis that bracero exclusion had no effect on U.S. agricultural wages or employment, and find that important mechanisms for this result include both adoption of less labor-intensive technologies and shifts in crop mix.

Suggested Citation

  • Clemens, Michael A. & Lewis, Ethan Gatewood & Postel, Hannah M., 2017. "Immigration Restrictions as Active Labor Market Policy: Evidence from the Mexican Bracero Exclusion," IZA Discussion Papers 10512, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10512

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Berthold Herrendorf & Christopher Herrington & Ákos Valentinyi, 2015. "Sectoral Technology and Structural Transformation," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 104-133, October.
    2. Mette Foged & Giovanni Peri, 2016. "Immigrants' Effect on Native Workers: New Analysis on Longitudinal Data," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 8(2), pages 1-34, April.
    3. Rachel M. Friedberg, 2001. "The Impact of Mass Migration on the Israeli Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1373-1408.
    4. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2004.041608_0 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Devadoss, Stephen & Luckstead, Jeff, 2008. "Contributions of Immigrant Farmworkers to California Vegetable Production," Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 40(03), pages 879-894, December.
    6. Devadoss, Stephen & Luckstead, Jeff, 2008. "Contributions of Immigrant Farmworkers to California Vegetable Production," Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Southern Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 40(03), December.
    7. Paul Beaudry & David A. Green, 2003. "Wages and Employment in the United States and Germany: What Explains the Differences?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 573-602, June.
    8. Brian C. Cadena & Brian K. Kovak, 2016. "Immigrants Equilibrate Local Labor Markets: Evidence from the Great Recession," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 257-290, January.
    9. W. Walker Hanlon, 2015. "Necessity Is the Mother of Invention: Input Supplies and Directed Technical Change," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 83, pages 67-100, January.
    10. Andreas Beerli & Giovanni Peri, 2015. "The Labor Market Effects of Opening the Border: New Evidence from Switzerland," NBER Working Papers 21319, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Xie, Bin, 2017. "The Effects of Immigration Quotas on Wages, the Great Black Migration, and Industrial Development," IZA Discussion Papers 11214, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Ager, Philipp & Hansen, Casper Worm, 2017. "Closing Heaven's Door: Evidence from the 1920s U.S. Immigration Quota Acts," Discussion Papers of Business and Economics 11/2017, University of Southern Denmark, Department of Business and Economics.
    3. repec:eee:regeco:v:67:y:2017:i:c:p:119-134 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Gaetano Basso & Giovanni Peri & Ahmed Rahman, 2017. "Computerization and Immigration: Theory and Evidence from the United States," NBER Working Papers 23935, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    immigrant; immigration; displacement; visa; labor-market; employment; wage; farm; agriculture; natural experiment; United States; Mexico;

    JEL classification:

    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies
    • J38 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Public Policy
    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers

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