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A Modest Proposal For Immigration: The $100,000 Green Card

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Editor’s note: Guest contributor Scott Banister is an American serial entrepreneur and investor. He most recently co-founded Zivity with his wife, Cyan Banister, who is also a TechCrunch columnist.

Permanent residence in the USA is a valuable asset that is enjoyed by most of you reading this article. Many potential immigrants from around the world want to acquire that asset and become valuable members of American society alongside us.

Why don’t we let more of them join us? There are two common objections: they will drive down wages, or they will be a drain on tax-funded programs. Some existing immigration paths, like the H1B visa-to-green card route, are based on the idea that for some immigrants, the benefits will outweigh these potential costs.

But the H1B path is a bureaucratic nightmare. Small startups don’t even bother with it. And for the immigrant, the H1B path puts them in the awkward position of having their visa status tied to their job until their green card is approved. You think having to leave your health insurance plan when you lose your job is bad? Try having to leave the country.

If being defined as “highly-skilled” outweighs the potential costs of immigration, wouldn’t the payment of an entrance tax deliver the same margin of safety? Let anyone under age 50 pay a $100,000 fee toward the retirement of the US public debt, satisfy the usual anti-criminal criteria, and get their green card. No quotas and no requirements to prove that their skills are “special” and “needed”.

Think the existing immigration paths are already providing enough green cards? The queue for Filipino siblings of US Citizens to get green cards stretches back to requests from 1988. The queue for H1B workers from India to get green cards stretches back to 2002. An Indian H1B visa holder who has been working in the US since before the Google IPO likely still doesn’t have their green card. Why not give them the option to pay this tax and end the wait?

Consider that 40 percent of the advanced science and engineering degrees granted in the US go to foreign-born students. There are endless discussions about “stapling” green cards to those degrees. It truly is a tragedy when these students are forced to return home—for our tax base, our economy, our diversity, our technological and military edge, and for that individual. But while that debate continues, why not offer a paid stapler? As a college dropout, I would argue that many talented entrepreneurs are more likely to save for and buy a green card anyway rather than stick it out for an advanced degree.

Are you grossed out by the idea of selling residency? The potential buyers certainly won’t thank you for your “generosity” in making it free, but impossible, to get a green card by current methods. And given that the Senate recently passed a bill to raise what I estimate could be over $60 million from a fee on an annual green card lottery, do we really think being in the business of selling raffle tickets is somehow more legit than selling the prize itself?

Don’t think $100,000 is enough to compensate the American public for the potential risk to wages and welfare programs posed by this proposal? Don’t think 50 is young enough to prevent Medicare immigration? Feel free to propose a different amount or a different age. We can keep our current alphabet soup, but there should be some reasonable price at which we are willing to sell green cards on an unlimited basis to non-elderly adults as an alternate path to all the regulatory mumbo jumbo that surrounds H1Bs and EB-5s and O-1s.

Just 100,000 new residents per year at $100,000 each would generate $10 billion for the public treasury. That would be quite a meaningful contribution to our country, not including the likely economic growth and increased tax revenues from adding these new workers. People capable of saving up $100,000 to invest in a green card are likely to be productive.

Immigrants make American society and American businesses stronger. For those that can also help pay down our debts on their way in, what is our excuse for denying them the American dream?

Photo credit: Shawn Honnick