As Brandon Fuller of NYU’s Urbanization Project notes, there are a number of U.S. cities that would be eager to attract immigrants to help stabilize shrinking populations and to spur economic revitalization. Detroit is the paradigmatic example, but of course it is not alone. And so he suggests the creation of city-based visas:
One objection is that city-based visas would limit where newcomers could live, at least until they obtain residency status or citizenship. Though the residence of city-based visa holders would indeed be limited, it’s worth noting that the U.S. already places restrictions on temporary work visas. For example, the the H-1B visa strictly limits a person’s employment to the sponsoring firm, which effectively limits where the visa holder can live. Just as an H-1B visa holder can transfer to a new sponsoring firm, a city-based scheme could allow visa holders to transfer to a different sponsoring city. In this sense, a visa program for cities would be entirely consistent with existing practice.
Another objection might be that these city-based visas will inevitably result in “leakage” as immigrants who have committed to residing in Detroit choose not to do so, despite the fact that this would jeopardize the visa. My sense, however, is that demand for the opportunity to live and work in the U.S. — even in a depressed economic region — is sufficiently great that this problem would prove surmountable. In keeping with my broader instincts regarding immigration policy, I think there is a strong case for restricting city-based visas to skilled immigrants, particularly if the goal is to create complementary employment opportunities for less-skilled native-born workers.