US Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., recently proposed a regional immigration option by way of a state-based (or federalist) visa program which would create a temporary work permit allowing states to manage the flow and regulate the quantity of temporary migrants who want to work and live in the U.S.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, another Republican, echoed “amen” and said the place to start is Detroit which is in bankruptcy and hemorrhaging its population base.
In considering this proposal it is helpful to review existing U.S. work-visa programs which are all run by the federal government. The H-1B and H-2A programs permit foreign workers to apply for a U.S. work permit provided a domestic employer agrees to hire them.
The visa is then issued to the prospective employee provided he/she works for the sponsoring employer. This program has been used primarily by Silicon Valley employers to bring trained technicians, most of whom are fluent in English, to the U.S. They are paid less than similarly trained U.S. citizens but better than if they remained in their homelands.
The EB-5 visa program allows foreigners to obtain a green card if they invest $1 million or more in the U.S. ($0.5 million in specific distressed areas) and hire a certain number of workers.
How would a federalist visa program work? Washington, D.C.’s CATO Institute recently took a look at Sen. Paul’s proposal. They began by examining such programs in Canada and Australia. Canada’s Provincial Nominee Program was started in 1998 to encourage immigrants to disperse throughout Canada instead of concentrating in urban hubs.
The central government sets quotas for each province and territory and then each entity creates its own program according to their local economic demands. The immigrant starts the process by applying for residency to a specific province or territory. If an economic need exists the application is passed by the central government to conduct a security check.
If no problem arises the application is approved and the immigrant arrives. Under this program, 96 percent of immigrants have found employment within their first year.
Australia’s program began in 1996. Prospective immigrants must meet basic security requirements as well as a “points” test which match the applicant’s skills to Australia’s domestic needs.
Then the nomination may be made by a state, territory or a relative living in the region where the needs have been matched. A second Australian program permits employers to petition for entrants based on labor shortages for the skills in question. Both the Canadian and Australian programs are relatively small but they work well.
CATO Institute envisions such a program in the U.S. in which the federal government provides all security screening and then allows the individual states to set the number of federalist visas to be issued.
Questions about English fluency, whether dependents could be brought to the U.S. under the visa, etc. would be left to individual states. Applicants would be restricted to living in the state of issuance although interstate agreements could provide for broader mobility.
Note that there could also be applicability to the 11 million illegal immigrants already present in the U.S. for those who otherwise meet the national and state requirements. Legislatures in California and Utah have both tried to create their own guest worker visa policies without permission of the federal government, but shelved the plans when legal issues loomed, punting the issue back to the federal government which seems incapable of making immigration decisions.
Senator Paul’s proposal is consistent with our traditions of federalism. It also vests regional control over economic policies rather than deferring those decisions to a central government in Washington, D.C. It’s worth a shot.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.