Over the last few days we’ve looked at the immigration problem from how money drives it to how Ronald Reagan would want to deal with the problem. Understanding that immigrant labor is necessary for America’s success allows us to start looking for a solution. Remembering that money drives the politics of keeping immigrants in the shadows gives us a clear pathway to resolving the problem. As a reminder, today we are only looking at the economic immigrant – the one that wants to come to work but not make America their home. The other immigrants, the refugees, need to be dealt with differently because they have a different set of circumstances.

So, what does the immigrant solution look like?

It is elegant, simple and resolves the major problems articulated by those opposed to immigration. The problems are: national security, national sovereignty, stopping the abuse of welfare benefits and protections for the native population. The latter is the most difficult to address because protecting wages runs counter to free enterprise. But the solution we will be looking at addresses this issue as well.

The solution is to offer work permits to any immigrant wanting to work in America.

The process should be simple. Offer a non-immigrant visa category to any immigrant wanting to work. All American consulates and embassies should accept the work permit applications for a nominal fee to cover background checks. Issuance of work permits should be completed within three weeks. Immigrants wanting to come to work, whether in the fields, the restaurants or even in the technology sector would be eligible for the work permit. The approval of the work permit would simply be based on the applicant having a clean criminal record, both in their country of origin and in the United States, if applicable. Previous violations of immigration laws, such as illegal crossing and or residing undocumented in the country should be excluded from the criminal history records.

The background should be to secure the country against illegal drugs, violent people and individuals who have national security, such as terrorism, nexus. This addresses the security portion of the opponents to immigration as the holders of work permits would have clean criminal records.

The important and different distinction between the exiting HB visa and previous work permit schemes is that the work permit only allows the non-immigrant the protection to look for a job in America and to protect themselves from abuse by employers. The work permit would require the non-immigrant to have a job offer from any company in America before crossing the border.

Currently, any company seeking foreign workers must certify with the labor department and, once approved, ask the State Department to begin issuing work permits. It is a cumbersome process where the immigrant does not enter into the equation until after the labor spot has being identified and the company has spent large resources to allow for the immigrant to come work.

By allowing the immigrant to acquire the work permit in advance, the immigrant worker drives the process, like all workers, by selecting a job they want to apply for and going through the hiring process. They would be in control.

Once the immigrant has the work permit, they then use technology, like the internet, or by going to local job fairs in their countries to look for and apply for a job. The immigrant cannot use the work permit to cross the border without a formal job offer/guarantee. Companies needing foreign labor would set up job fairs in countries to fill their job slots with. This is already happening, therefore it is not farfetched to believe it will continue.

When the immigrant has a guaranteed job offer he then legally crosses the border to go to work.

Currently non-immigrants and temporary residents are excluded from most welfare systems by law. The law must simply be enforced. Regarding schools and taxes for municipal services, each currently has revenue streams derived from local taxes. As legal workers, immigrant workers will be subjected to the same taxes as native-born workers. This benefits both the immigrant worker and the local taxpayer.

Without access to welfare systems – which is the current law – the immigrant without a job is forced to return to their country or find another job. Because the work permit allow the immigrant to come back once they have a new job, they are incentivised to leave the country until the next job opportunity arises. Immigrants without jobs lose their status to be in the country after some time, for example 30-60 days in which they must leave or find another job.

Protecting the immigrant laborers from employer abuse is mitigated by the fact that they have 30-60 days, after quitting a job before they are out of status. Their legal status also allows them to file complaints with the proper job enforcement agencies and legal systems, when necessary, or find new jobs.

Also, wages will be kept fair because of the legal status of all the workers. They may be lower then what a prevailing wage for jobs without access to foreign labor would be. However, the empirical evidence suggests that there are unfilled jobs in agriculture because native workers are unwilling to perform them.

Would higher wages resolve this? Possibly, but it would also carry the unintended consequences of higher prices for commodities that would bring us back full-circle to undocumented workers performing jobs.

A legal work force would ensure stable wages for all workers.

Immigrant workers may leave their jobs whenever they like without losing the benefits of the work permits. This allows them to look for better jobs or return to their countries. Work permits issued with ten-year expiration dates allows the transient workers to fill job slots as needed and travel back-and-forth as they like.

The only requirement would be that a work permit is only valid while the immigrant worker is employed, with 30-60-day windows for seeking other employment. Immigrant workers found in the country without a job lose the privilege of the work permit and are formally deported back to their countries. Once the privilege is lost it cannot be recovered. Likewise, any criminal convictions would result in the loss of the permit.

Under this scheme, the work permit would by like any other non-immigrant status whereby the right to drive using their country’s driver’s licenses are honored. Additionally, the work permit serves as valid identification in the country. Each municipality may choose to extend other benefits as they like.

All immigrant laborers would pay taxes like native workers, including local, state and federal. Like native workers, taxes paid by immigrants would be treated as if paid for by local citizens. For example, social security is put into a trust and after a set number of remittances, both immigrant and native workers receive a benefit according to the law. If the immigrant does not acquire enough time, they do not receive the benefit.

The work permit scheme would offer the country an orderly immigration policy for most of the immigrants seeking to come to the country. It allows for the United States to “secure its borders” and keep sovereignty intact by knowing who is entering the country at any time.

In addition, the working immigrants would help ensure the safety of the American population by helping to identify and report smugglers, drug dealers and other criminals for the simple fact that they would not like to see the benefit of working in the U.S. lost, or because they do not want to be victims of crime either.

To make the system work would require that the United States government begin enforcing the E-Verify system that has been part of immigration law for decades. Employers hiring workers need to ensure their work force is legal.

Finally, political schemes to limit the number of workers allowed in would create the same problem currently being experienced. Because the work permits require a job, those without a job are out of status. There are those that would argue that it is not fair to the local population to have to compete for jobs. That argument ignores the reality that all jobs are competitive with employers are already using various metrics to employ workers, including criminal records. A free enterprise system requires unencumbered access to the job pools.

Many readers will likely ask, what about the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country? The solution is also addressed by work permits. The undocumented immigrants in the country would be allowed a one-time opportunity to adjust their status by proving they have a job, or a job offering. In their case, and because of the years of establishing a nexus to the country, they would have a pathway to residency, five years is the current norm, and then seven years later they can apply for citizenship, thus resolving that problem.

Those that have criminal records may be excluded, although misdemeanors should not be included, although that can be debated. By enforcing E-Verify and offering a solution to legalizing their presence would resolve the issue for many. Those that cannot qualify would be subject to deportation.

This solution would only leave the refugee immigrants to address. There are already laws in the United States to address these, as well as international agreements. Once the economic immigrant is addressed, the resources of the United States government can work to address the refugees.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.