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May
2017 17

Is State-Sponsored Immigration a Way Past the Politics and Red Tape?

By Tim Shea

Special Contributor 

By the conventional wisdom of modern American politics, immigration is pretty clear-cut, partisan-line issue: conservatives prefer a more restrictionist approach, while liberals prefer to be more, well, liberal on the matter. As of late, even the GOP’s relatively benevolent attitudes towards legal immigration are no longer a sure thing. A law proposed earlier this year by Senator Tom Cotton, for instance, would slash the number of Green Cards issued by the Federal government each year. This proposal comes at a time where programs like the H-1B visa are already woefully failing to meet employer demand.

But not all Republican legislators are growing increasingly hawkish on immigration, legal or otherwise. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) took a step in the opposite direction with their unveiling of the State-Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act (SSVPPA). The legislation, which offers up an innovative and decidedly pro-immigration solution to the perennial migrant question, has already garnered widespread support from across the political spectrum

Key to the proposed reform is the devolution of limited immigration authority from the Federal government down to the individual states. Under the law—which was modelled after a Canadian program that has been widely-hailed for its success—each state would be allowed to sponsor 5,000 guest workers by their own volition every year. The law also contains a number of provisions designed to limit abuse of the visas, and security / health checks would remain the purview of the Federal government.

On top of that somewhat radical shift towards a more federalist immigration posture, the proposal also provides a number of innovations to make it politically and economically palatable. First, it is a voluntary program, so state’s like Arizona that can politely be described as skeptical towards immigration are free not implement the program. Second, it provides some resolution to the great amnesty debate by allowing states to sponsor undocumented workers as part of their visa quota. Last, and most important, in our humble opinion, it specifies no skill or trade requirements for sponsored workers. Instead, it allows states to decide which workers they recruit based entirely on their individual needs / economic conditions.

As we’ve noted previously, workforce readiness is not simply a matter of having a workforce that can meet the needs of any and every business; the modern economy requires far too much specialization for that to be a viable plan for most communities. No, the far more effective approach is to come at the issue from a strategic perspective. Target industry analyses, such as the one we provided to Butte-Silver Bow, Montana, can provide an in-depth understanding of which types of economic activity are essential to a region’s current and future economic health. This in turn provides an excellent jumping-off point for workforce readiness initiatives designed to create / recruit the workers necessary for those targeted industries to thrive.

By eschewing the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to immigration, the SSVPPA allows states to tailor immigration efforts to their own workforce needs. For some states, maybe that means more high-skilled tech workers. For others, it might mean low-skilled farm hands. Regardless, if the SSVPPA or similar legislation is passed, states will be given a powerful tool for ensuring that they remain workforce ready in the constantly-evolving 21st century economy.

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