May 3, 2017

Could A State-Based Visa Program Work?

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

The U.S. heavily relies on immigrant workers. In fact, according to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, 17% of the current American workforce is foreign born. While there has been much discussion from Washington about securing the border, immigration reform has been on the back burner. That is about to change. Johnson plans to introduce a bill to Congress in the near future that would create a state-based visa program for workers of many industries.

“We’ve got to secure the border for a host of reasons,” he said adding that providing workers a legal way to come to the U.S. is equally as important.

Program Details. Under the pilot program, states will be given access to 5,000 visas. The states would determine which industries would receive access to those visas. An individual applying for the nonimmigrant visa would do so through the Department of Homeland Security and would be vetted the same way visa holders are vetted today. The visa would be good for 3 years, but could be renewed. Also, unlike some work visa programs, visa holders would be eligible to apply for citizenship without losing their visa status. States will be required to keep track of the workers. The visas are employer transferable, but only can be transferred between states upon agreement of both states involved.

Washington Support. Colorado congressman Ken Buck has been working with Johnson on the bill and, while he’s not ready to introduce it to the House, he supports the direction of the bill.

“I’m excited to continue to work on it,” he says. “I think it’s important to take the bill out of the oven when it’s baked.”

Several groups support the bill including: South Dakota Dairy Producers, WIB Agri-Business Coalition, Professional Dairy Managers of PA, Outdoor Amusement Business Association, Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, National Foundation for American Policy, Marron Institute of Urban Management, Bipartisan Policy Center, American Dairy Coalition, Cooperative Network, and FWD.us.

Improving Immigration. While Buck says there are still some aspects of the bill that need to be worked on, he is encouraged by the progress that has been made thus far. Although many in the agriculture industry are hoping for comprehensive reform instead of one off bills like this one, Buck doesn’t think comprehensive reform will happen.

“I think comprehensive immigration reform died several years ago,” he says. “With this bill and other bills, along with good dialog on both sides of the aisle, we can improve immigration.”