Community visas could decrease political resistance to immigration liberalization by creating a more equal distribution of the gains from migration and increasing links between migrants and their host communities. The strongest opposition to increased legal immigration comes from working‐class native voters in areas with the smallest share of immigrants in the population.80 Currently, most of the benefits of immigration accrue to migrants and are most visible in growing urban areas.81 This unequal distribution of benefits feeds into negative perceptions and undermines political will to increase the share of immigrants in the workforce.
The community visa proposal is, in part, inspired by local governments in the United States and Europe that have created innovative ways to better welcome and integrate migrants.82 A 2018 study found that local governments in communities with lower median household incomes are more likely to have adopted local policies and programs that are welcoming to migrants.83 Recently, when states and cities were given the authority to veto refugee resettlement, Utah (a conservative‐leaning state) publicly requested more refugees, noting that the newcomers become “productive employees and responsible citizens.”84 Some local communities are more willing to view migration as a benefit and are keen to welcome more migrants than national governments currently allow.
In fact, many local communities in the United States have already started to build capacity to integrate new neighbors, with community organizations and, often, local employers taking a lead in decisionmaking. One in eight Americans lives in a so‐called Welcoming City, where the nonprofit Welcoming America has worked with policymakers and stakeholders to enhance economic and social inclusion of migrants in their city.85 Since 2013, 50 cities from 31 states have formally committed through this platform to promoting immigrant welcoming values and practices.86 American communities could also learn from the experiences of individuals, small groups, and community organizations that have privately sponsored over 300,000 refugees in Canada since 1978.87 Privately sponsored refugees have integrated and succeeded more effectively than those sponsored by the government.88
Countries have also begun experimenting with place‐based visas and have learned lessons that should be applied in an American community visa. In Australia, for example, state and territory governments struggling for skilled workers have the power to sponsor migrants to work in their region.89 Meanwhile, Canada has the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows Canadian provinces to sponsor foreign workers for permanent residence, and it has recently launched the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot—an expansion of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot—in which a number of remote communities across Canada sponsor permanent residents to fill local labor market demands.90 The challenge in some of these programs has been keeping the workers in the rural areas after they have arrived, so in this proposal, migrants would only be eligible to work in the county for which they received sponsorship. A key element of these regional visa programs elsewhere in the world is that they do not decrease the number of visas available through other means, which we copy for the community visa.
In the short term, therefore, a community visa could be a useful tool for policymakers in addition to broader immigration reform in Washington, DC. As a voluntary scheme led by local partners, communities could sponsor and retain immigrants for whom they have a demonstrated demand. The program could help renew U.S. communities in decline.
Giving local authorities more power to admit workers through a community visa should incrementally increase the number of foreign workers productively employed in the United States. In the ideal scenario, direct positive experiences with immigrants at the local level who share the gains may improve the median voter’s opinion of immigration generally.
A community visa should increase immigration, especially in parts of the country suffering from population and economic decline. In addition to the economic benefits from immigration, a community visa would give people in local communities some measure of control over immigration that would hopefully build a broader base of support for freer migration across the United States.