Pay To Immigrate

My latest column advocates that the United States let people buy residency permits to come here and work.

To be clear, I don’t believe that immigrants on the whole create net negative externalities to native born Americans, and I’d be happy to just let more people come. A more or less open borders posture is what made this country great. But I think charging for admission could be a politically feasible way toward a more liberal policy dynamic.

When discussing this some people have indicated that we “already do this” through programs that grant residency permits to people who want to make large business investments in the United States. That’s a fine initiative, but it’s not really the same thing. Particularly in political terms the key issue is that relatively few Americans are entrepreneurs looking to raise large sums of capital for their businesses. By contrast, everyone pays taxes and receives government services. So the coalition of people who benefit from fee-paying immigrants is quite large. That in turn means that the incentives strongly point toward trying to set the visa fee (or setting the number of visas you auction off) at the revenue-maximizing point, which should be relatively low.