New Research Paper: A Quarter of All States Have Tried Passing Their Own Guest Worker Reform

In an effort to facilitate a more efficient response to the demand of local businesses for temporary workers over the past decade, thirteen states considered laws that would provide them with local control over federal guest worker visa decisions by creating programs that allowed them to tailor visas to promote growth in their state and meet the needs of specific labor sectors. A new Niskanen Center research paper details the legislative efforts of these states, setting the stage to tackle reform on the federal level.

State-based guest worker reform programs allow governors and state legislatures to utilize visas as part of their own legislative toolkit to improve economic growth, add jobs, bolster population growth, revitalize crumbling cities, and target certain sectors for enhanced labor reliability. These types of programs provide more options for states to tailor visas to promote growth in specific sectors.

For example, California prefers more agricultural, seasonal workers to work in fields, whereas Wisconsin prefers fewer, longer-term, more experienced nonagricultural workers to work on dairy farms.

By tailoring immigration policies to each state’s unique needs, their local economies can operate more efficiently. In fact, we see those outcomes in both Canada and Australia, which rely on similar federalist programs with success.

That many of these proposals failed is not evidence of low political demand or the technical infeasibility of state-based solutions. It is evidence of the urgent need for federal consent and cooperation in this area of immigration law.

A federal bill authorizing states to administer a guest worker program tailored to their individual needs requires a delicate balance that protects American workers, adheres to long-standing principles of federalism, and simplifies processes. Of note, a federal bill was introduced by Senator Johnson (R-WI) this month.

The Republican-led government provides an opportunity for an innovative idea like this to take shape. As Republicans investigate ways to implement this solution, it is important to acknowledge how states tried to make these programs work and the reasons they failed. Legislation that begins on the federal level may well succeed where individual state programs cannot, but still need to address common policy and implementation hurdles.

For the full paper and the review of each state, click here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

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