Congress has plenary power over immigration, meaning that it can establish almost any rule for admission and residence into the United States that it wants. Current law allows a variety of entities and individuals to sponsor foreigners for visas, including U.S. businesses, family members, the U.S. military, universities, and foreign governments. States can only sponsor foreigners for visas in their capacities as employers and universities. Under a state‐sponsored visa program, Congress would allow states to sponsor migrants for temporary residence for any reason. States that opt into the program would then pass legislation establishing their criteria for sponsoring individuals, taking into account the needs of employers and communities in the state.
Under this system, state governments would submit petitions to the federal government requesting admission for whomever they wanted to see admitted to their state and for whatever period they wanted them admitted. States would already have familiarity with filing visa forms as they currently sponsor government employees and foreign students at public universities.51 Just as they do for all foreign travelers, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would perform background checks, while the Department of State would collect biometric information, conduct interviews, and issue federal visas allowing migrants to travel to the United States. DHS would then complete the process by inspecting the migrants at land, air, or sea ports of entry.
States would then register migrants’ names and addresses with the federal government when they arrive in the state. The state‐sponsored visas would not allow access to means‐tested federal benefits or permit migrants to vote. The migrants would be required to work and reside in the state sponsoring them, a burden that is less onerous than current laws that require nonimmigrants to live near their sponsors.52 States could also enter into compacts with other states to share economic migrants.
As part of a state‐sponsored visa program, Congress should also create incentives for immigrants to follow the rules. One way to do that is by providing that state‐sponsored migrants may only renew their visas if they are residing and working in the state that sponsors them. Current temporary worker programs incentivize compliance in a similar manner, forbidding workers who overstay their visas and those who work illegally from reapplying or extending their status. This incentive alone has generally maintained high levels of compliance.53 Congress should further incentivize compliance by allowing immigrants who abide by all rules of the state’s program for a decade or longer to receive legal permanent residence in the United States, which would allow them, if they met the existing criteria, to apply for U.S. citizenship after five more years.