Immigration and Retrocession

Shikha Dalmia, in an op-ed in the New York Times, proposes that the federal government allow the states to decide how many foreign workers they need and want:

America should begin its own version of this program but take it one step further and let states set their own limits on foreign workers. This would get federal bureaucrats out of the business of centrally planning the labor market for the whole country. States that understand their own labor markets would do a much better job of finding suitable workers for their businesses.

The states wouldn’t have to hew to the federal high-skilled and low-skilled distinction for visas. Right now, both high-tech and low-tech states are suffering from a tight labor market. States that don’t want or need immigrant workers could opt out of the program. Foreign workers would be free to travel anywhere in the country, but they would be limited to jobs in participating states until they are naturalized. This would be an improvement over the existing system for them, since work visas currently tether them to a single employer, unless they find a new employer to undertake the onerous process of sponsoring them. It would also reassure states that they would have a measure of control over the level of in-migration from other states at least for some time.

States wouldn’t be required to participate, but they would face an inherent incentive to do so because businesses are far more likely to prefer locations where there are suitably skilled, motivated workers. Such a program would render the current broken and dysfunctional federal immigration system beside the point. (Constitutionally, immigration is a federal function, but nothing prevents Washington from voluntarily giving states more latitude to make their own decisions about foreign workers. Other aspects of immigration policy can remain in federal hands.)

which she characterizes as following the Canadian model. I am reflexively drawn to such a system but I am retain some skepticism. We have problems that Canada does not have including a completely broken tourist and student visa program, a counter-productive sponsorship program, an ancillary lottery system, and a country with which we share a 1,500 mile border with a median family income 20% of ours. Had we the same circumstances as Canada and as strict a system of labor enforcement as Canada does I would support the plan enthusiastically.

I’d also like to repeat something I’ve mentioned before. Under our present system state and local governments bear most of the costs for illegal migrant workers which cannot possibly be recouped from most of the migrants and for some reason of other boosters of increased immigration always cite the benefits of immigration without reckoning its costs which are substantial. If all of our migrant workers were professionals with six figure incomes it would be one thing but the overwhelming preponderance earn minimum or even sub-minimum wage. And nobody actually knows how many of those there are—everybody’s guessing.

2 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m confused by her proposal. If a State decides to let in anybody who wants to come, what keeps immigrants from going to another state? Are we going to have internal border checks?

  • what keeps immigrants from going to another state?

    Basically, lack of jobs in the other state. No internal border checks or restrictions on internal migration.

Leave a Comment