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Work permits and auctions: A look at two new proposals for granting work visas to immigrants

Photo by unsure shot/Flickr (Creative Commons)

There are a couple of new proposals for granting work visas to foreign workers, one of them legislative, the other a private proposal put together by an economist. They couldn't be more different, but the one thing they have in common is that they are drawing their share of controversy, as might be expected in this economy. Here are some details on both.

1) The private proposal: It's a novel one. Commissioned by a think tank to come up with an immigration reform plan, UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri has proposed a system that would have employers competing in a quarterly electronic auction for work permits. In essence, the permits to hire foreign workers would go to those most willing to pay, with bids starting at $7,000 for high-skilled workers, less for lower-skilled seasonal workers. But in case it sounds like indentured servitude, visa holders would be allowed to change jobs, according to the plan.

The idea would be to replace the current system of quotas, long waits and lotteries, with eventual plans to expand the auction system while restricting the family-sponsored visa system. At the same time, workers who stay could eventually apply for legal resident status. From the proposal:

Not only does the U.S. system fail to identify immigrants with skills needed in today's economy, it also fails to respond to changes in those needs with economic circumstances. The system's numerical limits and quotas are arbitrarily fixed and infrequently changed. Labor market conditions have no effect on the number of employment-based visas: when times are good, growth robust, and the needs of American businesses greatest, no visas are added, and when times are tough and growth slower, visas are not reduced (nor is their price adjusted).

When temporary immigrants do come to work, they often have little incentive to invest, assimilate, and sink roots in the United States because of a painful disconnect between temporary work visas and the possibility of a permanent work visa.

The paper describing the plan is an interesting read. The entire proposal can be viewed here.

2) The legislative proposal: Applying only to California, it's called the California Agricultural Jobs and Industry Stabilization Act. Introduced by Democratic Assembly member Manuel Perez, whose district lies in California's agricultural southeast, the measure proposes granting work permits to tens of thousands of undocumented workers already employed in agriculture and service jobs, allowing them to live here legally. In a strapped state economy, that it has managed to clear an Assembly committee is impressive, but its level of support is mixed.

From a legislative analysis of the bill, which "requires the Employment Development Department (EDD) to issue permits authorizing an undocumented person who meets specified criteria to reside and work as an employee in the state."

Specifically, this bill:

1)Prohibits EDD from issuing permits under the AJIS Act until it certifies there are not enough state legal residents to fill all open agricultural and service industry jobs in the state.

2)Defines employee as an agricultural employee and a person employed to provide domestic services, janitorial/building maintenance services, food preparation services, or housekeeping services.

3)Establishes the following criteria for undocumented person to receive a permit:

a) The person has established that he or she was present in the state before January 25, 2012 and has continuously resided here since this time.

b) The person has established he or she was employed in the state as an agricultural or service industry worker before January 25, 2012. Further authorizes this person to establish employment status by submitting specified employment records.

c) The person has paid a fee to EDD for costs to administer this program.

d) The person has not been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving bodily injury, threat of bodily injury, or property damage in excess of $500.

4)Prohibits EDD from granting a permit to an undocumented person unless he or she submits to fingerprints, as specified. Further requires EDD to use documents submitted for use in the fingerprinting process to conduct a background check of the person to determine program eligibility.

There's more; a bill analysis can be viewed here.