The ‘Heartland Visa’: A Potential Solution To Solve Skills Gaps in the Midwest

Envoy InsightsForeign Talent ImpactThe ‘Heartland Visa’: A Potential Solution To Solve Skills Gaps in the Midwest

A look at the visa concept that could help revitalize some of America’s less populous regions

In April 2019, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) released a report detailing steps the U.S. can take to help revitalize some of the country’s struggling areas, particularly in the Midwest. On the 2020 campaign trail, these ideas have become the basis of a policy proposal for two Democratic presidential candidates. This proposal, dubbed the Heartland Visa, is becoming a policy proposal among presidential candidates and may be a viable option to help revitalize Middle America.

Breaking down the components of the ‘Heartland Visa’

Concern Outside Major Cities

It’s no secret that some areas of the U.S. outside of major cities have struggled to rebuild since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. According to research from David Swenson, an associate scientist of economics at Iowa State University, the Midwest and Northeast have experienced strong economic and population declines. 

Swenson noted that 71% of all metropolitan counties experienced growth from 2008 to 2017. However, rural and micropolitan counties (those with between 10,000 and 20,000 residents), have experienced population decline. This is because many of these areas are stuck in a vicious cycle: Residents are moving to larger cities for work due to lack of opportunity, while companies in these areas are unable to create new jobs because of lack of skilled labor in the communities. 

However, the current U.S. unemployment rate remains near historic lows. Even employers in major cities are struggling to find qualified candidates. To combat these challenges, companies, particularly those in software and technology, are hiring foreign nationals to fill open roles. As such, further population growth is centered in larger cities, leaving rural counties on the outside. Swenson said many of these rural and micropolitan areas often have no economic backup plan and said these areas will not grow unless policies encourage population and economic growth.

Needs and Proposals

EIG’s report examines whether creating a new employment-based visa, known as the Heartland Visa, can lead to more resources and people moving to the heart of the U.S. EIG hypothesizes a Heartland Visa could help reverse the downward economic and population trends rural communities are facing.

A Heartland Visa would allow for skilled immigrants to work in the U.S. but with a few key differences: 

  • First, it would be a place-based visa, similar to programs found in Australia and Canada.
  • Second, a Heartland Visa program would follow a double opt-in structure on a voluntary basis. EIG states this setup would ensure a strong match between new immigrants and the communities in which they may live.
  • Third, Heartland Visas would be targeted only for communities facing regular population loss or stagnation. Immigrants would need to live and work within these specific geographic areas for this visa to work,

Can The Heartland Visa Become A Reality?

There is no legislation surrounding EIG’s study. However, two Democratic presidential candidates have proposed creating a Heartland Visa as part of their plan for immigration reform.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttegieg’s plan to unlock opportunities in rural communities borrow’s EIG’s idea for a new visa category. A Buttigieg administration would create a local Community Renewal visa that borrows the same framework found in EIG’s report. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota has also proposed updating policies that would pass comprehensive immigration reform that would help rural communities find and employ workers.

Some of America’s rural communities have been slow to rebuild after the 2008 recession. A place-based visa represents just one idea to help revitalize these areas. The more successful these regions of the U.S. become, the more the rest of the country will continue to thrive.

Learn more about hiring trends in your geographic area. Request a market analysis from the Envoy INSIGHTS Team to see how your immigration program stacks up in local markets.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Jaclyn Pettit, who is a Senior Associate at Global Immigration Associates, P.C. (www.giafirm.com), Envoy’s affiliated law firm.