Is there a better way to give work permits to immigrants?

May 16, 2012

Work Visa Immigration Paperwork File

A stack of work visas await processing. Credit: Ahmed AB/Flickr

Currently, work visas are obtained using a waiting list and a lottery system. UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri is proposing an auction system in which U.S companies would bid electronically for permits to hire immigrant workers. Because these permits would be market based, government would no longer be assessing the skills of immigrant workers but rather companies would decide what skills they value and bid for the permits that fulfill their needs.

Each auctioned permit would be attached to a temporary work visa which would allow the visa holder to move from job to job thus giving workers greater freedom to find the best working conditions and reducing the opportunity for exploitation. Our present work visa system favors family reunification and non-market based qualifications.

With work permits starting at $7,000 for high skilled labor and $1,000 for seasonal, lowered skilled workers, this proposal could bring millions to cash strapped federal and state coffers. One drawback would be the elimination of the lottery for green cards for people from low immigration countries but it may resolve some of the problems related to the demand by businesses for low skilled labor that fuels thee illegal immigration.


Giovanni Peri, Professor of Economics, University of California, Davis and author of “Rationalizing U.S. Immigration Policy: Reforms for Simplicity, Fairness, and Economic Growth,” a research paper for The Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution which outlines his proposals for auctioning work permits for immigrants.

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