- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

States would have the power to create their own guest-worker programs to dole out work permits to foreigners under a new bill introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, kick-starting the immigration debate.

Sen. Ron Johnson’s legislation would allow states to adapt guest-worker programs to their own local economic needs, rather than wait on federal officials.

The permits would last for three years and could be renewed, and workers would be allowed to apply for permanent immigrant status as well — giving the guest-workers a leg up on other potential immigrants.

“The states will decide what type of workers they need in their state,” Mr. Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, said.

The workers can move among jobs within a state, meaning they can’t be stuck with an abusive employer, but they are supposed to remain in the state that approved them — unless states form a compact to share workers.

Mr. Johnson’s bill would allow 500,000 workers, with each state able to get 5,000 workers as a minimum, and another 250,000 workers divided among all the states by population level.

“This is a pilot program. Let’s see how the states actually implement this,” he said.

Rep. Ken Buck, Colorado Republican, said he’s writing another version in the House. He said some states are already working on programs, should they get permission from the federal government.

States would do criminal background checks and would be responsible for making sure the guest worker isn’t displacing an American worker.

He said it would be up to the states to keep track of the workers once they’re here.

“The federal government hasn’t done a very good job of it, frankly, so we should not be in the business of telling the states what to do,” he said.

Bipartisan advocacy groups said they were eager to see how the bills played out, saying the plans could break through gridlock in Washington on the issue.

“The efforts of members of Congress to move forward the discussion on immigration, including some potential means of addressing the status of the unauthorized, is welcome, and we hope lawmakers will reach bipartisan agreement on legislation,” the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Theresa Cardinal Brown said in a statement.

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