Immigration reform is complex and there are many different aspects. I have several variations of ideas with different limitations and benefits. Please don’t read this thinking I am even pretending to have all the answers. This article is simply meant to be a framework with which productive discussion of the complexities of immigration reform can begin. I will propose some ideas and then provide some pros and cons for various issues at different points. So please be patient as you read and wait until the end to start forming too many opinions. I will destroy some of my own ideas for you near the end by providing problems I haven’t found good answers to.
Coming to America – It’s Complicated
One thing I noticed about immigration to the U.S. is that it is large and complex because it seems to deal with every kind of person from every different country for every different reason differently. There are a myriad of different kinds of ways in (mostly temporary). This causes great confusion in even knowing if you can qualify to come to this country and if so, how long you can stay. But let’s be honest, the majority of the people who come to the U.S. for any reason other than vacation, end up wanting to live here permanently. So why not just make that the presumption and simplify the process for permanent residence?
Work and Education
Let’s start with those who are coming for the employment opportunities (like I did) or the educational opportunities. It seems to me that we could replace the various temporary educational and work visas with a single permanent resident application. It would reduce the complexity since everyone would go through the same process and have the same requirements and if people want to work seasonally or are moved in and out of country for the same employer it’s all the same process. Additionally, the process only has to be done once.
So what should you need to qualify for permanent residency based on attending school? I would say simply an acceptance letter at an accredited school with a minimum 2 year program. That’s it. For those 2 years the individual will be contributing to the economy by paying for the classes and living in general. They will likely find employment and be able to contribute to society in other ways. Eventually they are going to either obtain gainful employment and/or creating a new enterprise of their own, or they are going to choose to go home where they may fair better having had access to our schools and perhaps bring back some of the ideas that are unique to the U.S..
For those applying for permanent residency based on employment I would simply require a formal offer letter from a U.S. based company. If a U.S. company wants to hire you, you’re welcome to live and work here. Currently the business has to go through a lengthy and difficult process to prove they can’t get an American to do the job. Also, you must meet minimum skill and /or education requirements in many cases, which are set by the government.
For those applying as business owners I would want proof of a solid business plan along with capital and/or loan approvals. I know, this is vague, someone way smarter than me would need to iron that out. But I would want anyone with a solid business plan to be granted permanent residency because businesses employ people and contribute to the economic growth of the country.
Let’s be real, it’s way faster and easier to hire locally than to wait for someone to go through immigration and then uproot themselves from a foreign country just to start a job. The employer is best suited to determine whether or not the candidate is best qualified to do the job. It’s not realistic to have the government try to decide who is “qualified” to come in and work for every different kind of occupation. When I applied I had to provide some “equivalent” job title because the government had never heard of an Access Technology Specialist.
Most folks who come here want to stay. And why not? It’s a great country. By providing temporary work and education permits we are encouraging people to come under false pretenses and then over-stay their visa. Or, perhaps they come with the intention of it being temporary and then discover they like it here and want to stay but are then forced to leave. To enforce the law with temporary work and education visas is prohibitively expensive (and difficult) to attempt to find and deport these folks. Then there’s the whole “sanctuary city” issue where the State and local governments may actually be intentionally working against Federal law enforcement. Then there is the whole underground criminal system that thrives in a community of people living in fear of deportation and needing ways of re-entering the country illegally. This causes an entire marketplace for human trafficking across borders. Then there is the current calamity of families being split up because children have been born while the temporary resident was in country (albeit often, but not always illegally).
The other problem with temporary work visas is that they can be used by employers as leverage to use and abuse foreign workers. This has been a problem both in the tech industry as well as the farming industry where working conditions that were unethical and illegal occurred because the victim (the foreign worker) is unwilling to speak up in fear of losing their job and being deported. If a company offers a job to a foreign resident and then begins to treat them unfairly, that person can utilize the freedom that permanent residency offers them and simply find a better job without fear of deportation. Workers who can find work elsewhere can’t be intimidated and abused by bad employers.
The issue of dealing with refugee status is far more complex. For one, refugees are generally fleeing with little or no resources and traveling in desperation and fear. This means there may be little or no documentation, no plans for income or temporary housing, and there may also be a significant language barrier. All of these things can make the application process very difficult and time consuming. How do you know what country a person is from or if they are giving you a real name when they are fleeing persecution from their own country and can’t get confirmation of their identity or are from a country that has been destroyed by natural disaster along with the infrastructure to identify people? If you have no proof of who they are or where they came from then how can you know that they qualify as refugees?
That being said, the total number of refugee or asylum requests per year peaked around 115,00 in 2016 and that seems like a reasonable annual intake. If we can ascertain with reasonable certainty they meet the requirements and we can tone down the paranoia I think we can make this work.
So then the question has to be asked, who qualifies as a refugee? People fleeing natural catastrophes affecting a significant portion of a country, such as what happened to Haiti certainly come to mind. People fleeing countries that have governments which target them for imprisonment and/or death because of their ethnic or religious identity seems to qualify. In those situations I would think the above permanent residency process could be done after the arrival instead of before. But that only works if the people coming as refugees can already know they qualify as refugees. Otherwise we are back to the existing problem of people trying to cross illegally because they don’t qualify for entry.
Various Problems With My Ideas
For asylum seekers to know they qualify before coming, the U.S. would have to be clear about which countries they believe are so impoverished or devastated that their people qualify as refugees or are so biased that they persecute certain people groups. It’s doable, but would require the U.S. government to throw diplomacy with many countries almost completely out the window. I hear it’s politically incorrect to call countries shit holes, but when you agree as a country to take in refugees from a certain country, that is effectively what you are doing. You’re just saying it politely.
My hope would be that we could trust that our country was built on the concept of creating a better life for yourself and your family through ingenuity and hard work and that a large influx of new people would add to that. My concern is that the growing culture of entitlement and handouts would transfer to the newcomers and crush our current social safety nets by sheer volume.
By easing the requirements we will likely see an influx of applications. We already receive about 1 million permanent residency applications per year and about 800,000 temporary job applications per year. With all of those new folks coming in we’re going to get some bad eggs. There really are large groups of people around the world that want to kill us because we’re the U.S.A. But the truth of the matter is that the world isn’t safe anywhere, including here. We are supposed to be living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I believe that compassion and freedom are worth the risks. Besides, those who come to this country and break our laws by harming others will be dealt with when they commit a crime. In the meantime, living here may actually change some hearts.
The Devil’s in the Details
Obviously, there is still much left out of this document and various issues like verifying employment offers or school acceptance letters is left out. What to do with refugees while verifying their identity was also left out because that is also a somewhat separate and difficult issue. But I believe it’s resolvable. I also completely left out what to do with the current illegal immigrants because I want to focus on the system going forward. The conversion process is a whole other difficult topic. My main goal here was to show a general direction and strategy.
Various concerns I think I have addressed (and possible side benefits I may not have mentioned)
Some folks worry about foreigners taking all their jobs. I believe that the combination of “home field advantage” and the inability to effectively hold foreign workers hostage will cause employers to favor local hires but still have access to global talent to strengthen their companies. Requiring the proof of job offer in advance means folks aren’t coming first and then trying to get a job. The job they are getting was never “yours” in the first place.
I believe that this new clear and (dare I say) liberal approach to immigration will greatly reduce the number of people attempting to enter the U.S. illegally because there will be a safer, possibly less expensive solution to gaining access to the U.S. This should reduce the strain on the border patrol which makes over 500,00 “apprehensions” of illegal crossings every year.
I think this new process will also reduce the burden currently on employers for trying to get foreign workers, which can give them easier access to the best human resources in the world.
OK, so that is a lot of information. If I had to boil it down it would be this:
If you have a job offer from a U.S.-based company, you get permanent residency
If you have been accepted to an accredited U.S. School for at least a 2 year program, you get permanent residency
If you can be imprisoned or killed for your ethnicity or religious beliefs in your country, you get permanent residency
If you’re country was just devastated by natural disaster and it will be years before it’s infrastructure can be put back to the level it was, you get permanent residency
If you come here and commit an act of terror, we have a high percentage of armed civilians. You will be arrested or shot, we will mourn your victims, and then we will move on as a free country.
Helpful source material to learn more about U.S. Immigration (and where I got my numbers)