Leon Neyfakh, the Boston Globe's Ideas reporter, recently wrote a column on the potential for region-based visas in the United States:
But as the House of Representatives works on an immigration reform bill of its own, some thinkers are calling for a radically different approach—one they say could take some of the pressure off our elected officials to agree on a single way forward.
What they envision is a new class of “regional visas” that would open up additional slots for newcomers but limit them to specific destinations within the United States, while giving state and local officials a role in deciding how many immigrants—and which ones—to let in. Under this system, states that want to attract more foreign workers could do so, and perhaps even target people with the kinds of skills and training that local businesses are looking for. Meanwhile, states that don’t want to open the door to additional immigration could simply decline to participate.
As Neyfakh points out, regional immigration programs have proven successful elsewhere:
Regional immigration programs have sprung up in several countries, including Australia and Canada. In Canada, all 10 of the country’s provinces are allowed to nominate a certain number of people for visas every year, and to distribute them in ways that reflect the hiring priorities of local employers. In oil-rich Alberta, visa nominations are available to tradesmen, like pipe fitters, welders, plumbers, and rig workers; in Manitoba, immigration officials recently teamed with employers and other local leaders on a recruitment mission in southern Europe, where they looked for people who could work in business, transportation, aerospace, construction, and service. According to Daniel Hiebert, a professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in immigration, the so-called Provincial Nominee Program helps spread newcomers more evenly around the country and provides a much-needed counterpoint to Canada’s federal immigration system, which has historically privileged education attainment over specific skills, bringing in people whose advanced degrees didn’t necessarily match employers’ real needs.
“What the voters of Arizona think is different than what the voters of Michigan think, and yet they both hold each other back from what they want to do,” said Rust. “The region-based visa is a way to balance these political economies.”