Surprise: Republicans Have a Sensible Plan to Fix Immigration

They'll let states enact their own guest-worker programs.


President Trump is a man who prefers blunt instruments: He thinks he can solve America's complex immigration issues with a "big, beautiful

Tony Webster via

wall." Meanwhile, two members of his party—Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado—have come up with a vastly more elegant solution to help the country meet its future labor needs. (Sen. John McCain has signed on as a cosponsor, too.) There are no walls involved—just a plan to let states set up their own guest worker programs.

Besides being inherently sound, the great upside of this approach is that it would sidestep the messy politics in Washington that have long made sensible immigration reform well nigh impossible. And we know that it works: It already does in Canada.

You wouldn't know this from all the restrictinionist screaming about mass immigration, but the American labor market is very tight, and growing tighter, as the latest jobs numbers show. On the high end, companies need at least twice as many foreign tech workers as Uncle Sam will let them hire. As usual, this year's annual H-1B visa cap for 85,000 high-skilled workers filled up within days of opening. Companies that don't land a visa this year will have to wait a year before they can re-enter the H-1B lottery—by which time the foreign techie they were planning to hire will be working for an Australian or Singaporean company.

But high-tech companies are the lucky ones. Matters are far worse on the low-skilled front. Farmers need H-1A visas to hire farmhands. But the requirements for these visas are so onerous and the outcome so uncertain that they are practically unusable. Meanwhile, the demand for seasonal laborers in industries such as construction, landscaping, and hospitality is about four times the annual allotment of visas. The worst part, though, is that by the time federal bureaucrats are done processing the applications, the season is done.

Johnson and Kirk want employers to have options beyond the rotten choices Uncle Sam makes available. Their bill, called the State-Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, would give each state a modest 5,000 annual allotment to hire whoever it wants from abroad regardless of skill level, confining the federal government's role to conducting security and health checks. This allotment would be adjusted each year based on economic growth.

The foreign workers brought in on these visas would be confined to working in the sponsoring state—or states that form a compact to honor each others' visas — which is a whole lot better for workers than being tethered to the sponsoring employer. States that feel strongly about keeping out foreign workers don't have to participate. And to ensure that these workers don't skip town and illegally take up employment elsewhere, the participating states would require these workers to post a $4,000 bond that would be returned at the end of their term if they stayed put.

States that have more than a 3 percent non-compliance rate would lose 50 percent of their visa allotment the following year (and would be required to up their bond amount by $1,000 per visa). Conversely, those that meet the stipulated compliance rate—which won't be hard to do given that only 2 percent of illegal overstays involve guest workers—would be rewarded with a 10 percent increase in their visa quota in subsequent years.

These elaborate provisions were included to placate restrictionist states that don't want to be flooded with foreigners. But it's actually overkill, at least if the experience of our neighbor to the north is any indication.

Canada implemented a similar Provincial Nominee Program 20 years ago. And even without bonding and other requirements, provinces on average are able to retain 80 percent of the sponsored workers. This is particularly remarkable given that the PNP program hands foreigners' permanent residency—the equivalent of America's green card—and not temporary work visas as the Johnson bill is proposing. This means they are free to work anywhere in the country from the day they land in Canada.

Why have provinces been so successful in hanging on to foreign workers when they are free to work anywhere? Essentially because they do such a granular matching of foreign workers and local labor needs that these workers don't need to go looking for work in better climes.

One great upside of the Johnson-Buck approach is that it could offer a workable fix to the amnesty war by allowing states to sponsor undocumented workers as part of their allotments and potentially take them off the hands of states that don't want them. Utah's conservative legislature, appalled by its neighbor Arizona's harsh treatment of undocumented Latinos, has been asking the federal government for permission to do just that, in fact.

Immigration is a federal function under the U.S. Constitution, but that doesn't mean that Uncle Sam can't hand over some of its authority to states to craft their own immigration policies. Indeed, the Johnson-Buck proposal is in the best traditions of American federalism that allows states to become the laboratories of democracy on immigration, exactly as the Founders intended.

States that fear the fiscal burden or native job losses from more foreign workers can bow out. And those that believe the reverse can opt in without Washington imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everyone.

Trump can keep pounding his fist and demanding his border wall. But this bill offers an amicable—and costless—way forward on an issue that has polarized Americans for far too long. It is no skin off anyone's back—not even the most ardent restrictionists'—and therefore deserves widespread support on Capitol Hill.

This column originally appeared in The Week.

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  1. “””Farmers need H-1A visas to hire farmhands. But the requirements for these visas are so onerous and the outcome so uncertain that they are practically unusable. “””

    Its unusable for farm workers becasue H-1A visas are for nurses.

    H-2A visa is for temporary farm workers

    1. Damn you, bringing in facts and data into a Shikha Dalmia article!

  2. How do they plan to eliminate all the other people who want to immigrate? Costless? Not a chance. Politicians are involved, remember? Sounds like an astounding amount of bureaucracy. They don’t do anything for free.

    The free market is the only real answer. This bill just rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  3. President Trump is a man who prefers blunt instruments: He thinks he can solve America’s complex immigration issues with a “big, beautiful wall.”

    As opposed to death from a thousand cuts like Congress is used to imposing on American taxpayers.

    Nobody said a wall is the solution. Its a tool to limiting illegal immigration. Even funnier is that threat of building a wall and actively enforcing current immigration law is doing more to curb illegal immigration than Congress has done in 40 years.

    I am sure that no credit will be given to Trump.

  4. A border wall or fence doesn’t have to stop 100% of border crossers to be effective. Israel implemented an effective border fence that has diminished its suicide bomber infiltration to almost zero. Link:…..ectiveness

    It is difficult to smuggle human beings compared to drugs, guns or contraband. They require food, water, air to breathe, have to relieve themselves periodically, can’t be kept in hidden compartments for days on end, weigh 130 lbs or more and take up a lot of space.

    There are many ways in which illegals get taxpayer support. As just one example, every illegal alien’s child is entitled to a public school education (even if the child is also illegal) and the average cost of this education is $11,000 per year (2014 figures). An illegal alien’s child enrolled in first grade will cost the taxpayer $132,000 to graduate from high school. This $132,000 of course becomes unavailable to educate the children of citizens and legal immigrants.

    So a $15 billion wall will pay for itself if it deters about 120,000 illegal aliens of child-bearing age from crossing the border illegally.

    1. Israel was attempting to protect itself from terrorist attacks and had the support of its population. The people coming here have committed no terrorist attacks and are unlikely to do so. They are seeking food, shelter, safety , an education for their children- a chance for a better life, just like all of our immigrant forebearers. The majority of undocumented workers are people who enter the country on some type of visa and overstay it. Only the poorest and most desparate make the journey through Central America and Mexico and then try to cross our desert to reach safety. These are the people who would be stopped and these are the people most Americans would accept if they requested asylum.

      It is ridiculous to compare a small country surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on doing harm with the US, a large country with plenty of resources and a need for laborers who pose no threat to anyone and who have undergone terrible hardship to get here.

  5. “But they are still a giant step in the right direction because they at least eschew the zero-sum logic of fences and walls”

    What is zero-sum-logic of fences and walls?

  6. Apparently, amnesty is the only sensible plan Dalmia can comprehend.

  7. On the high end, companies need at least twice as many foreign tech workers as Uncle Sam will let them hire.

    I’m sure that’s what the advertisements for positions say; Tech worker required, must not be an American citizen.

    No distortion of markets and facts going on here, please move along. Hey look! 24 million more people got insurance and the GOP wants to take it away from them!

    1. Well, purple squirrels are only native to India.

    2. Well you can’t expect them to hire a white male over 40! Gods!

  8. So, if Dalmia is in favor of this proposal then surely she must be in favor of states being able to forcibly return “guest” workers who flee to greener pastures in another state.

    If not then the whole “allotment” aspect of this regime is one gigantic fiction intended to fool the rubes.

    1. one gigantic fiction intended to fool the rubes

      A.k.a. “government.” Also, One Gigantic Fiction Intended to Fool the Rubes was my nickname in grad school.

      1. I just find it amusing that Dalmia thinks she’s a master con running a fool proof shell game.

        With glass cups.

    2. The fugitive Slave Act of 1850 has never been repealed. It can still be used – but now to capture runaway ‘guest workers’.

  9. On the high end, companies need at least twice as many foreign tech workers as Uncle Sam will let them hire.

    If that’s true, then it sounds to me like we should be seeing higher wages and lower levels of unemployment for tech workers. Are we?

    1. Not necessarily. Many American-educated grads are not worth the market salary in tech fields. Many foreign tech workers (especially those educated in China, for example) are much more valuable to the employers for many reasons: willingness to work for less, a more humble attitude, and a much stronger educational foundation. All tech workers are not interchangeable. This is not limited to tech fields, if you visit the doctorate departments for any stem-related field in academia, you might be surprised on which scale foreigners outnumber us-born people. America is great at letting other countries educate people, before enticing them here with better conditions, more money, better equipment, and more opportunities for research. Even Western Europe is way behind. However, for the rest of its population, the US has dumbed down the level to allow a large number of people to feel useful to society and to maintain social harmony.

      1. Hmmmm… I wonder what market force resets wages to levels that are appropriate.

        If the government would stop making recessions worse, wages would be reset and manpower would be reallocated by the market.

        I am so hopeful that the government would get out of student loan business so young kids have to work and save for college. Not only does the taxpayer save a bundle, kids would do those low paying jobs.

    2. We also would be reading less stories about how soon to be laid off tech workers are forced to train their replacements. It is all a game to pay labor less. It will eventually destroy the U.S. middle class and the economy. Can you name one country on earth with a vibrant economy and a middle class that does not exist or is exceedingly small?

  10. This is a horrible idea. It’s basically a modern form of serfdom.

    1. If there were any realistic intention of enforcement you’d be entirely correct.

      But that is never going to happen, so it’s simply an open door policy by another name.

  11. . . . just a plan to let states set up their own guest worker programs.

    I don’t see how this would be workable without setting up internal borders – just because one state allows someone in doesn’t mean that another state would (or should) have to allow that person *into the other state*.

    All this stuff is re-arranging cards while your house is on fire – the only way to ‘fix’ immigration is to either completely close off the border and go police state or dismantle the welfare ‘safety’ net and then simply open up the border by eliminating quotas – anyone who can pass a basic criminal and health check can come over here to live and work.

    Nothing short of either of those extremes will ever fix anything.

    1. Agammamom, you are right essentially. There are compromises, such as allowing a two-tier system of rights (citizens/residents have access to some services, guest workers to a reduced number of services, such as emergency care, fire department in case of a fire, police protection etc – and everything else on a pay-for-service basis). The big issue is that some politicians are willing to make these guests citizens and offer them free trinkets, in return for votes; other politicians are wary of importing so many people from cultured with prevailing socialist social attitudes , fearing the loss of votes (and not understanding that people change, a hard worker or small business owner who came from Ecuador will not necessarily vote for a candidate resembling Correa if he ends up dealing with the bureaucracy, taxes, etc).

  12. Their bill, called the State-Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, would give each state a modest 5,000 annual allotment

    Ah, so otherwise useless and nothing more than a token gesture.

    1. my little town all by itself adds another 1,000 laborers during the harvest seasons.

    2. Watch 49 states trade their allotments to California.

      1. Trade? Like the proposed carbon tax credit, the law would read “sell”.

      2. Ding ding ding! We have a winner.

  13. A solution in search of a problem.

    Maybe we could get the government to fix those pesky sunrises?

    1. Oh, that will end well.

  14. Shikha and John McCain approved is all that is needed for me to know this is the exact opposite of a sensible plan.

  15. Competition is always a good idea.

    A sensible bill that reduces power that D.C. has will not even be tabled.

  16. RE: Surprise: Republicans Have a Sensible Plan to Fix Immigration
    They’ll let states enact their own guest-worker programs.

    Not a bad idea considering it is the border states that take most of the fleeing immigrants from oppressive socialist states in Latin America.
    However, it would be a good idea to embrace these new immigrants since they won’t take liberty, both political and economic, for granted like so many useful idiots here in America do.

  17. President Trump is a man who prefers blunt instruments: He thinks he can solve America’s complex immigration issues with a “big, beautiful wall.” Meanwhile, two members of his party?Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado?have come up with a vastly more elegant solution to help the country meet its future labor needs. (Sen. John McCain has signed on as a cosponsor, too.) There are no walls involved?just a plan to let states set up their own guest worker programs.

    Given how totally awesome we are at dealing with people who overstay their visas, I bet this will be so damned awesome! No chance they will lose track of their state’s guest workers.

  18. The wall should be looked on as classic stimulus spending.

    We pay the workers to put it up, then when the democrats regain power, we pay the workers to tear it down.

  19. Before an illegal alien receives his/her first paycheck or cash payment, they have committed some
    26 Federal, State and Local laws.

    1. They conspire to cross the border illegally. (1 count)
    2. They hire a coyote or are provided passage by a Drug Cartel in exchange for guided passage
    into the USA. (1 count)
    3. They cross the Border with a coyote and in many cases smuggle drugs. (1 count)
    4. They travel, illegally, to their destination or to a destination determined by their “smuggler.” (1 count)
    5. They obtain fraudulent documents via identity theft, or via manufactured documents?.
    driver license, green card, social security card, birth certificate (each count a felony). (4 counts)
    6. They look for work using these documents. (1 count)
    7. They fill out work documents falsely, i.e., Federal and State IRS forms, SSN forms,
    Immigration forms, Workers comp. forms (each a separate felony. (6 counts)

    1. 8. They drive on our roads without a legal license, registration, insurance. (3 counts)
      9. They get paid via check or under the table, thus conspiring with the employer to defraud the
      government(s) via the use of false documents. (2 counts)
      10. They open bank accounts via the use of false documents in violation of Federal Law and the
      Patriot Act. (2 counts)
      11. They obtain housing via the use of false documents. (1 count)
      12. They obtain a car or truck via the use of false documents. (1 count)
      13. They obtain healthcare via the use of false documents. (1 count)
      14. They secure public service benefits via the use of false documents ? food, housing, healthcare, etc.

      1. At a minimum this list shows that they commit at least 28 crimes of identity theft, conspiracy, obtaining false documents making false statements, fraud, violation of Federal and State and Local laws, etc.


        The above list correctly demonstrates that they are not simply in violation of our laws just for crossing the Border, they are in violation for multiple misdemeanor and criminal acts in just a very short period of time and they continue to compound their violations via the passage of time, via falsification of documents, false statements, perjury and the list goes on.

        1. Brilliant!!!! You are a winner.

  20. Not a chance on this carp. We now need 50 separate ‘immigration police forces’ to keep track of these immigrants?!? When any can just hop on a buss and enter any other state or city? This isn’t the job of state police it’s the job of ice. If they can’t do it we might just consider open borders.

  21. Here my plan to fix our countries future labor needs. Get rid of 3 trillion dollars in ”human resources’ outlays. If companies need employees they can entice and/or train the 30 million not in the labor force and 8 million unemployed who are no doubt receiving some form of govt assistance.

  22. Yes, this is very sensible plan because everyone knows that immigrants who come into the country as guest workers will remain in the state that admitted them. Engineers who were hired by a Silicon Valley firm won’t be lured away by a firm in Mass with high wages. True the maid at Mar a Largo will probably still be at the mercy of their employer who can deport her if she asks for a raise or overtime but the people admitted to pick peaches won’t journey to another state to pick strawberries? Of course not. They will simply go home at the end of the peach season and pray that they can survivce until it comes again. Those fleeing from gang or durg violence will undoubtably embrace new careers as apple pickers, especially the children sent north by their families to save their lives. Nothing like escaping violence for a life of indentured servitude.

  23. Dalmia wrote it so I ain’t fuckin’ reading it.

    Fuck you, Shikha. Jump in the woodchipper voluntarily.

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  25. There is virtually no such thing as a problem with illegal immigration in all N. European countries. Why?
    1) Mandatory personal id cards that must be used for all identification purposes and are effectively impossible to forge.
    2) Any time someone needs to rent an apt or house or buy a car, they must register with the local precinct in order to get a lease.
    3) To obtain a job, they need to provide a work permit/visa in their passport and they have to provide proof of 2
    4) A result of this, as Google and Facebook are learning, these countries have extremely strict privacy laws and system of government and corporate privacy review.
    5) As for H1Bs and such: Germany, a country with vastly proportionally greater need for engineers and technical people has largely succeeded in not having to brain-drain the 3rd world in order to keeps its relatively low-tech economy running. Yes, education is not just free over there, it’s stipended and unionized and professionalized. You know, run intelligently without stupid ideologies getting in the way of doing the rational thing.
    In the meantime, we idiots over here in ‘Murrkah scream and yell about “immigrants” and “freedom” and “unions” and “guvment” and things just don’t seem to go anywhere but down. Maybe the dumb-dumb in chief will finally wake up even the ideologists here and the opportunists populating the Right and see these problems have solutions and they can just borrow and adapt. Something ‘Murrkah was good at for a while.

  26. The author clearly doesn’t understand the visa lottery or hopes the reader doesn’t when she says companies “need at least twice as many foreign tech workers”. She also confuses the concepts of “need” and “want”. My children have a better understanding of these concepts than she exhibits.

    Then she demonstrates questionable math when she refers to 5,000 as modest. That represents potentially nearly tripling the number of visas.

    And if we think one system that can’t be tracked well is so bad, why would we believe for a moment that 50 separate systems would be an improvement? It’s inviting an almost black market style, human trafficking ring where California and New Jersey wheel and deal to buy out the allotments of the other states. Does anyone believe this won’t lead to even more paying North Dakota wages in Santa Clara?

    The current program is already terribly abused. Breaking it into 50 programs with various reciprocity agreements intermingled fails to look like a clear improvement.

  27. The official US unemployment rate is low because it doesn’t count the people that have given up on finding jobs. Perhaps now some of them will start looking again. Perhaps now wages will go up.

  28. Oh my goodness, no! Red states have already been passing ‘immigration’ laws which are 100% punitive and 0% benefit. For the federal government to basically endorse this would be the ultimate abdication of responsibility.

    There is no chance that my home state of South Carolina would pass anything called a guest worker program, even if it would a good idea if they did.

    We need national immigration reform, and the most urgent need is fixing the legal immigration system, not the false, left-right narrative of ‘amnesty’ vs. a wall.

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