Matthew Slaughter Offers an Immigration Proposal for Skilled Workers

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on May 17, 2019


“America’s struggling communities are in desperate need of high-talent immigrants. We should welcome them.”
   -  from “Immigrants for the Heartland” by Matthew Slaughter and Matthew Rees


In the recent Slaughter & Rees Report, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business economists Matthew Slaughter and Matthew Rees call out key findings from a new report by the Economic Innovation Group: “There are far too many communities in America struggling against the loss of prime-age, high-skill workers that is fueling falling productivity, fewer start-ups, stagnant wages and real-estate prices, and strained local government finances.”


Professor Slaughter proposes a solution in an op-ed piece written for the Wall Street Journal: a new “heartland visa” that would allow more high-talent immigrants into America who would agree to live and work in demographically struggling communities.


Below are a few excerpts from “Immigrants for the Heartland” (Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2019):


The Current U.S. High-Skilled Immigrant Visa Program


An H-1B visa allows an American company to create a new stateside job for a foreigner with special skills or training. The visa allows the employee to stay in the country and work for three years, at which point it can be renewed for another three. The H-1B program, created by the Immigration Act of 1990, accounts for nearly all of America’s skilled immigration. It imposes an annual cap of 85,000 new visas: 20,000 for those with at least a master’s degree and another 65,000 that require a bachelor’s.


On April 1, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting new H-1B visa petitions for the upcoming fiscal year. As always, demand far exceeded supply. USCIS stopped accepting new petitions April 5, having received more than 85,000.


Impact of Fewer Skilled Immigrants on the Economy


There are tangible costs to the U.S. economy of allocating far fewer skilled-immigrant visas than companies need. Most immediately, the cost is forgone jobs. Over the long run, the cost is forgone ideas, innovation and connections to the world.


These costs aren’t borne equally across the U.S., because high-talent immigrants tend to cluster in a few cities. In 2013 a quarter of all H-1B applications were from companies based in three metropolitan areas—New York, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.—and half were from nine metropolitan areas. Today, America’s 20 most populous counties account for 19% of the country’s total population but 37% of its skilled immigrants.


Introducing the “Heartland Visa”


The need for high-talent immigrants is especially acute for communities where the loss of prime-age, high-skill workers means falling productivity, fewer start-ups, stagnant wages and real-estate prices, and strained local government finances. The “heartland” visa program, which the report’s authors call place-based visas, or PBVs, could arrest the decline.


[The report referenced is from the Economic Innovation Group: "From Managing the Decline to Building the Future: Could a Heartland Visa Help Struggling Regions?"]


PBVs would ideally be accompanied by a raise in the overall H-1B visa cap, in part to alleviate that cap’s restrictiveness. Struggling communities would be eligible for PBVs if they met some measure of insufficient dynamism and talent. An immigrant arriving on a PBV would be required to find and maintain a job in his host community within some period of time. Ideally and in contrast to H-1B visas today, PBVs would also be granted to entrepreneurs to start new businesses.


Benefits of Place-Based Visas (PBVs)


The potential of PBVs has already been realized in Canada and Australia—two countries whose pro-growth immigration policies are widely lauded. Canada’s Provincial Nominee Program allows provinces and territories to choose immigrants who intend to settle in them. Before the PNP, 87% of all Canadian immigrants settled in the three most populous provinces, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. But from 2010-15 76% of PNP immigrants planned to settle elsewhere. Of PNP immigrants to Newfoundland and Labrador, the most sparsely populated province, 57% have remained there. “The program spreads the benefits of immigration beyond major cities and helps fill local employment gaps,” a 2017 Canadian government report concluded.




The U.S. does not welcome enough high-talent immigrants, and America’s struggling communities especially need them. Place-based visas could address both these problems, welcoming immigrants across America to the benefit of all Americans.


Read the full article: “Immigrants for the Heartland” (Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2019).


Following this op-ed piece, Professor Slaughter and his colleague Matthew Rees published additional information in support of the “heartland visa” in the Slaughter & Rees Report: also titled, “Immigrants for the Heartland” (May 1, 2019).


Matthew Slaughter is the Paul Danos Dean, the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business, and the founding Faculty Director of the Center for Business, Government & Society at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Dean Slaughter’s area of expertise is the economics and politics of globalization.