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Supporting Place-Based Immigration in the Great Lakes Region

Recommendation: Place-Based Immigration Policies

Congress and the Administration should advance place-based immigration policies, with a specific focus on high-skilled immigrants, to support strategic population growth and economic revitalization in the Great Lakes region.


The Need: Declining Population Growth in the Great Lakes Region

Across the United States the demographics are changing. While parts of the country continue to grow at a healthy rate, in many states population growth has diminished, the number of working age people—age 25 to 54—has stagnated, and people are aging quickly. In the Great Lakes states, high levels of out-migration have zeroed out population growth in rural and urban communities. Out migration of skilled residents in search of opportunities elsewhere shrinks the economic base for communities and challenges revitalization efforts. While there is some growing racial and ethnic diversity, the trend in the Great Lakes region is far behind the national landscape.

A place-based approach to immigration policy is needed to maximize population growth in key regions across the country to support economic and community revitalization. According to research produced by the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition and New American Economy, immigrants have played an important role in slowing the impact of these challenges in the Great Lakes region. Moreover, immigrants have helped to revitalize and strengthen key industries, such as healthcare and manufacturing; offset population decline; and start new businesses that create jobs, increase the tax base, and encourage spending that drives local growth. For these reasons, GLMCC fully supports federal policies that will attract high-skilled immigrants to communities with stagnate and declining population growth in order to advance economic growth, job creation, and increased quality of place.


The Concept: High Skilled Immigrant Visas

High Skilled Immigrant (HSI) visas are place-based visas that allow holders to compete on the open labor market in qualified High Skill Immigration Zones. In contrast to H-1B visas, which rely on employer sponsorship, HSI visas are contingent upon holders maintaining employment or starting a business in specific areas of the country. The type of job or business does not serve as a factor because the goal is place-based in nature – infuse low-growth areas of the country with high-skilled immigrants to help reverse demographic decline and revitalize local economies.

High Skill Immigration Zones are areas of the country experiencing consistent demographic decline of high-skilled, prime working age adults that contributes to a weakened local economy and widening skills gap. These are opt-in zones, where a municipality like a city or county can apply to be selected by the state and/or federal government to receive High Skill Immigration Zone status. HSI Zones are eligible to receive a number of visas in addition to national visa caps to sponsor high-skilled immigrants. The program would provide enough visas for HSI Zones to meaningfully improve local economies through increased human capital and entrepreneurial vitality, while not overwhelming a municipality’s ability to integrate immigrants.


High Skilled Immigrant Visa: Definitions and Designations

HSI visas are visas that are place-based, meaning they require the holder to live in a designated place or zone. These visas are add-ons to the national visa cap and are separate from H-1B visas.

HSI visa applicants are immigrants who have the documented foreign or international equivalent of a skilled trade or occupational certification, or a four-year or higher post-secondary degree, including those in occupations based upon science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or the design arts. HSI visa holders are not tied to a single employer but can compete on the open labor market to maximize availability to startups and small businesses. The main requirement for HSI visa status is that holders remain living and working in HSI Zones.

HSI Zones are municipalities including cities and counties that have experienced some level of severe population loss or stagnation in addition to a decline in economic dynamism. A municipality can apply to receive HSI Zone designation through the state and/or federal government. Once designation has been awarded, HSI Zones will receive additional visas to sponsor the resettlement of high-skilled immigrants.


Operations

HSI Zones operate as an add-on cap to national aggregate visas caps. Municipalities can use E-verify to certify their HSI visa applicants and the applicants’ skills. Misrepresentation by municipalities and visa holders would be subject to financial and criminal penalties for municipalities and potential deportation for visa holders.

HSI Zones are eligible to renew their status if full compliance and other applicability measures (population decline and low economic dynamism) are met. HSI Zones that defer or are not eligible for renewal are responsible for ensuring compliance of HSI visa holders until all holders obtain permanent residency status or return to their home country. The program will need to be accompanied by an add-on cap to the national green card cap to avoid crowding out other skilled visa holders.

HSI visas are contingent on holders finding and maintaining a job or starting a business in a HSI Zone within a reasonable period of time. HSI visa holders are restricted to live and work for a period in HSI Zones. Documentation proving residency and employment status will be required by municipalities. If all compliance measures are met, HSI visa holders are eligible for renewal or permanent residency status. Once permanent residency status is obtained, immigrants are no longer required to live or work in HSI Zones.

Municipalities with HSI designation are responsible for maintaining program compliance and are subject to audits from the state and/or federal government to ensure compliance.

HSI Zones will be aggregated on a federal government portal. HSI applicants can apply through the portal for specific Zones or geographies, or they can apply for general HSI visa status, which does not specify placement.


Policy Considerations

  • Skill-building efforts for low-skilled, non-immigrant residents
  • Optimal number of visas per Zone
  • Optimal number of HSI Zones
  • Cost to apply
  • Local, state, and federal management and enforcement capacity
  • Specific HSI Zone requirements
  • Per country cap for HSI visa applications
  • Duration of HSI visas
  • Length of time holders are required to live in HSI Zones
  • Length of time holders are permitted to find employment/start a business
  • Compliance measures to qualify for permanent residency status
  • Age requirement for HSI visa applicants
  • Inclusion of other “Heartland Visa” key principles
  • Data collection and metrics for program success

Conclusion

A HSI visa program is not designed to fix every issue that stems from the country’s demographic challenges. Rather, this kind of program is designed to infuse highly skilled newcomers into communities that have long seen population decline and aging hurt the local economy. By creating a place-based visa program that does not require employer sponsorship, communities can strengthen their talent pipelines to emerging industries and grow in economic dynamism through new entrepreneurship.