Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Follow Up: Far Better Approach for Huddled Masses

Back in ought-nine (naught-nine? nevermind.), I wrote a blog praising the prez for putting immigration on the agenda. Specifically:
  • "Remove incentives to enter illegally" (by cracking down on employers who hire illegals)
  • "Bring people out of the shadows" (with his "get to the back of the line" amnesty program)
  • "Create secure borders"
  • "Improve our immigration system"
  • and "Work with Mexico"
Not sure what happened next, but I suspect the dog ate his agenda. True, illegal immigration flows have changed due to the US Economic issues and (I suspect) border-patrolling cyberdrones. However, regarding legal immigration, he has scant little to brag about in the upcoming election. Apparently, he has calculated that the one gay vote in the hand is worth two Latin votes in the bush.

Go ahead - visualize it. 

Anyway, immigration SHOULD be on the agenda. Its an embarrassment. Still.

As I wrote at the time:
Step 1 is to provide people with a functional, efficient legal path to enter the country. If we want to avoid the "upside down" demographic nightmare of Japan and Europe, we need a steady supply of new, hungry labor ... Sadly, today's legal path is a joke ... our nation's most embarrassing interaction with the rest of the world is the nightmarish gauntlet we put our future fellow citizens through. The Visa process. An ideal process would filter for enterprising, aggressive, ambitious, smart, yet moral people. Instead, that ilk are slowly beaten into bureaucratic submission.

If Obama really wants to improve the economy in an effective and sustainable way, he should consider privatizing (um, I mean public-private-partnering) the process. The government doesn't design the cars they drive (unless they drive Volts). They don't design the planes they fly. They don't operate the phone network, power grid, or farm-to-table chain. They don't own (most of) the banks which process public and private payments (yet?).

Similarly, the government would take a bit of farce out of the immigration process by 
  • focusing their efforts on establishing sensible  rules for immigration (more on that below)
  • allowing private firms to competitively move applicants through. As I said before - think TurboTax or Google Maps or whatever silicon firm you like
  • regulating those private firms (just as banks, meatpackers, and airlines are)
Immigrant visas should be selective (no terrorists, no criminals, no derelicts, etc.) but not xenophobic or political.  The price should be steep. People and companies will sort out ways to pay (grants, loans, sponsors, etc.) Arbitrary quotas and impossibly bureaucratic processes with glacial progress just push people away or underground and have no place here. 

Applicants should choose between asylum/hardship, spouse/family unification,temporary work visa, temporary student visa, or all-you-can-eat citizenship. 

I won't spend much time on the first two categories in this blog - we already have criteria for those, albeit flawed. View them as a form of foreign aid. The remaining categories need to be structured to ensure a net benefit to the country for every new immigrant. The more the merrier!

Those choosing Temporary Work Visas:
  • must qualify. No criminals. No deadbeats. No terrorists. Model this screening on the Treasury's OFAC process (which is federally-regulated and monitored, but conducted privately by companies and banks)
  • must pay a significant deposit, refundable upon exit. Say, half the current US average annual income for the applicant's declared profession category. I know that's a lot. That's the point. Let them finance it if they're really serious about coming here
  • must pay a market-priced application fee. Instead of the current quota system, a sliding fee scale governs immigrant volumes based on our capacity to absorb, but ensures an efficient path for those who are highly motivated and highly confident in their ability to be successful here
  • must pay a US "Use Fee" each year to offset their use of public (or public-provided and free) goods such as roads, workplace safety, and clean air
  • must be able to provide proof of medical insurance, pre-paid through the term of the visa
  • do not need to have a job or a company "sponsoring" them. The deposit and fees above should be significant enough to make people self-assess their ability to get a job in the US and self-select. People are not required to find a company to "sponsor" them via "invitation" as the US and many other countries currently do. The current system allows for, among other things, nasty political games and power-broking, especially between unions and congressmen. People would be wise to find jobs before coming in order to get the companies to help offset the visa deposit and fees. But they don't have to.
  • must pay income tax (and other taxes) just like anyone else who works and spends time here
  • are not eligible for any government assistance or public services. If you are not interested in being a US citizen, that's fine but you can't have it both ways. Your country of citizenship is responsible for you, your behavior, and your needs. You screw up, you go home, and we keep your deposit.
  • convey their own citizenship on their children born here. The kids are not automatically US citizens. 
  • can apply to stay for any time period they choose and can apply for renewal as many times as they want. However, the "Use Fee" fee increases progressively the longer one stays (or the more times one renews). Thus, a farmer who crosses from Tijuana to Oxnard to pick strawberries for a month a year pays a little, although it increases over time. The doctor who comes from Pakistan and sets up a permanent practice (but chooses not to become a citizen) pays much more. The US should be a net beneficiary of the spoils of immigration.
  • Must voluntarily leave when their visas expire. Deposits are refunded only on confirmed exit. Those coming in an trying to disappear are criminals and thus immediately and permanently ineligible to be here. We already have means of validating right-to-work. That same process could be used any time public services are requested (driver's license, enrollment in public school, any federal assistance, social security, medicare/medicaid) or travel is booked (similar to the no-fly list).

Those choosing Temporary Student Visas:
  • must qualify (see above)
  • must voluntarily either leave when their visas expire (see above) or get a Temporary Work Visa
  • must be able to provide proof of medical insurance, pre-paid through the term of the visa (see above)
  • must pay a significant deposit, refundable upon exit (or transferable to a Temporary Work Visa deposit). This should be rolled into the whole student financial aid process so highly-desirable candidates can cover the deposit using grants/endowments, public funds, and student loans
  • must pay a market-priced application fee (see above)
  • must have been already accepted into an accredited school and eligible program (debatable whether associates degrees, trade/professional programs, etc. should be eligible)
  • must apply for a visa which covers the entirety of their planned degree program
  • must maintain enrollment with passing grades or the visa is immediately revoked
  • are free to work here, but must pay income tax (and other taxes) just like anyone else who works and spends time here
  • are not eligible for any government assistance or public services. Your country of citizenship, your family, and/or your school (however you negotiate it) are responsible for all your needs
  • (note: spouses/kids must apply for visas separately, either as students, workers, or via family unification)
  • (note: no "use fee" is charged for students. This is the US investment in incentivizing smart kids to come here)
Those choosing Citizenship:

  • must have lived and worked in the US legally under the Temporary Work or Temporary Student Visa process for a contiguous period of 3 (?) years, meeting all criteria above
  • must pre-fund their own social safety net (social security and medicare) commensurate with the average cumulative contribution of US citizens their age. They may choose to do this over time (during their Temporary Work Visa years) or as a lump-sum payment upon applying for citizenship. For younger applicants such as students, this would be low. For someone who has made an entire career abroad and wants to retire to the US, it will be significant.
  • must apply as a family if they expect to bring in any family members. Citizenship is not inherited or conveyed.
  •  must pay a significant one-time fee (per-head). It's worth something to be a US citizen. We shouldn't give it away. 
  • must pay a one-time immediate (10%?) tax on funds/assets/income brought into the US at any point during their citizenship. Or not. This one is debatable.
  • must understand that citizenship will be stripped and they will be exited if they are ever convicted of a serious crime
You may think "woah, that's expensive - only elite and wealthy will be able to come in." I would disagree by half. It is selective, but in a fair way. People coming here will cause the country some expense. This must be offset. Those who find it worthwhile to come here presumably think they can improve their life and/or financial situation. If they can credibly defend that belief, they should be willing and able to either put their own assets on the line, or get support via family, employers, grants, or banks. If none of these parties can be convinced of the immigrant's ability to succeed, maybe they're on to something.

On the other hand, if millions upon millions can meet the criteria for entry - bring 'em on! The cliche is true - this country was build by and for ambitious immigrants!

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