February 2020

IZA Policy Paper No. 151: An Auctions Approach to Immigration Policy

Immigration reform is once again on Washington's policy agenda. Serious attention is being given to policies that would place more emphasis on merit than on family ties, which are favored by much of the current US immigration system. One way to determine merit is a point-based system. This paper argues that auctioning off visas would be preferable to a point-based system. Auctions would promote economic growth, increase government revenue, and lead to a more efficient allocation of visas while reducing discretionary decision making by government officials. This paper outlines several proposals for how to implement visa auctions that could serve as a starting point for designing a better immigration policy. We recommend replacing the current system of employment-based temporary and permanent visas with an employer-centered auction in order to increase the economic gains from immigration.