Over 40 percent of counties in the United States are experiencing population declines, and the country is experiencing a decline in the working-age population. Together, these demographics, some say, may signal an eventual slowdown of the economy. How to reverse the trend? Immigrants moving to targeted areas could help stem the decline.

Countries such as Australia and Canada have already adopted immigration programs that focus on their particular states’ or provinces’ needs for workers.

In the United States, various internal economic development programs have targeted immigrants for training and have found way to “match” immigrants with local businesses. But these programs are aimed at tapping immigrants who are already in the United States. For at least 10 years, some states have been trying to gain permission to establish their own work visa programs. The American Citizenship Act of 2021 (ACA 2021), proposed by the Biden administration, would provide such an opportunity. One of its many features is a five-year pilot program that would allow states to essentially recruit immigrants from abroad to join particular industries in specific geographic areas.

The ACA 2021 program would allow an additional 10,000 immigrant visas a year based on localized economic development strategies. Labor certifications proving there are not sufficient U.S. workers in the area to fill the need would be required. The bill also would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to adjust the number of green cards available annually based on macroeconomic conditions.

The “heartland visa” program discussed in Congress is similar to the ACA 2021 pilot program. It is also geographically targeted, with communities and foreign skilled workers “opting-in.” The heartland visa program would require communities to provide funding to “welcome” the new immigrants in exchange for the immigrants remaining in the community for at least a certain amount of time. Similar programs have been adopted by states outside the immigration context to welcome new residents to work and build their state economies. A couple of examples include Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has a remote worker program that includes a $10,000 stipend. Newton, Iowa, also offers a $10,000 grant toward purchasing a home to bring residents to the city.

As the country looks toward a post-COVID-19 economy, targeted immigration programs could speed the recovery. Jackson Lewis attorneys will provide updates particularly regarding the progress of the ACA 2021 as they become available.