The Case for State-Based Visas in the U.S.

Brandon Fuller Brandon Fuller

Sean Rust and I have a new Cato policy analysis of the potential for state-based visas in the United States. The idea is relatively straightforward: grant the states that want additional immigrants the ability to attract them. Below, I've excerpted our concluding remarks. You can find the detailed analysis here.

A more state-based approach to immigration policy is consistent with American traditions of federalism and regional experimentation with economic policy. State and local governments are better positioned than Washington when it comes to understanding local economic demands and the local capacity for additional immigrants. They should have a larger role in recruiting the foreign entrants who live and work within their borders.

Unlike existing employment-based visas that tie foreign workers to one firm, state-based visa holders would be free to work for any employer they’d like within the state—leading to thicker, more equitable, and more efficient local labor markets. Other conditions could also be attached to the state-based visas by the states, such as bars to the usage of state public benefits or rules regarding full-time employment.

A state-based visa program would largely direct immigration to the states that want it without forcing many additional immigrants on the states that do not. Immigrant movement from states that sponsor these visas to other states is inevitable but, given the experience of Canada and Australia, it would likely be a relatively small number. The program would be particularly attractive to regions that are struggling with population decline. In such areas, immigration can revitalize neighborhoods, stabilize housing markets, expand the local tax base, deepen the local pool of human capital, attract and encourage new businesses, and generate job growth.

States are also in a better position to understand any potentially adverse impacts from immigration and adjust their sponsorship or other public policies accordingly, be it nominal wage impacts on vulnerable groups such as native high-school dropouts or budgetary impacts on state and local authorities. By allowing states to tailor immigration policy to local needs, region-based visas would help to shift a state’s median voter toward supporting a more open immigration policy.

Regional immigration programs in Canada and Australia can inform American policymakers of the benefits and potential designs for a state-based visa program. The Canadian and Australian programs enjoy high retention rates and popularity among participating regions, migrants, and firms. The United States should follow suit.

Tile image on blog page courtesy of NASA.

Show Comments
Open
comments powered by Disqus