The Agenda

Minor Quibbles with Article on City-Based Visas

Nancy Scola has written an interesting article for The Next City, and she generously quotes me twice. But I don’t think the quotes reflect my views very well, e.g.:

“There are disadvantages to the fact that the U.S. is a common market and is often regulated as such,” says conservative policy analyst and National Review writer Reihan Salam. At the moment, Detroit might benefit from having its own currency. And is it such a leap, he asks, from Detroit Dollars to Detroit Visas?

The fact that the U.S. is a common market is a good thing, but there are downsides (as well as the more obvious upsides) to the fact that the U.S. is a common currency zone.

On the national level, some advocates for place-based visas suggest that the best way forward is to sidestep some resistance by branding it something like a “pilot project” or “trial program” or “experiment.” Even more politically palatable is if you can make the argument that letting cities or states handpick immigrants isn’t all that different from existing, generally non-controversial programs, like the student visa programs that allow foreign students to study at U.S. universities. “It’s kind of insane that we’re deputizing any accredited university,” Salam says. “But if the University of Phoenix can do it, why can’t Detroit?”

My recollection is that I was referring to the idea of assigning permanent resident status to individuals who had completed STEM degrees, a popular proposal among Democrats and Republicans. I don’t recall having characterized the current student visa program in this way.

I actually recall having been very skeptical about city-based visas, arguing that they should mainly be understood as a small part of a larger shift towards a skills-based immigration policy. That is, we might allow states and cities to move some number of migrants who’ve already met the national criteria to move up the queue. 

Scola, to her credit, is not cheerleaderish, observing that depressed regions in Canada don’t appear to have done a good job of retaining “place-based migrants” — and of course the impetus behind the program is that city-based visas could revitalize depressed cities like Detroit:

But, in the aggregate, do enough people stick around to justify place-based immigration? The Canadian record is decidedly mixed. Of those who came to Manitoba through the PNP between 2000 and 2008, 83 percent remained by that last year. In some provinces, it’s even higher: British Columbia and Alberta boast retention rates around 95 percent. But elsewhere, especially the Maritime Provinces along Atlantic coast, it’s far lower, dipping to 37 percent in Prince Edward Island and just 23 percent in Newfoundland.

City-based visas are no substitute for a broader shift to a more coherent immigration policy built around the idea of improving the U.S. human capital mix.


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