By Shikah Dalmia
Senior Analyst at the Reason Foundation
With Congress stuck among the contradictory demands of labor, business and talk-radio restrictionists, neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama has been able to move the needle on immigration reform. Meanwhile, as the economy gathers steam, states face a tight labor market at all skill levels.
There might be a way forward, if Congress enacts legislation to give states standing waivers or permission to craft their own guest-worker programs. It sounds radical, but several states, red and blue, have already been trying to do this.
California, New Mexico and Kansas have passed resolutions or drafted legislation to issue guest-worker visas to undocumented aliens. Three pending bills in Texas would let state employers hire foreign workers from abroad on temporary work visas. Utah’s conservative legislature overwhelmingly approved legislation in 2011 to let undocumented workers obtain a two-year visa. But Utah’s program has been postponed, because immigration is a federal function and states would need federal waivers. President Obama has stonewalled Utah’s waiver request.
One way to release states from the partisan whims of administrations would be for Congress to erect a statutory architecture under which states could implement their own guest-worker programs. Canada has done this through its highly successful Provincial Nominee Program.