The idea appalls a lot of people — and for understandable reasons. Selling visas sounds like it would tilt immigration overwhelmingly in favor of the already-wealthy, and lock out the poor and vulnerable. It also sounds like commodifying something that should be sacred: American citizenship.
But we already effectively “sell” residency permits to the very wealthy through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program. That’s a cheap and easy way for individuals to obtain a green card by investing a certain amount of money domestically, and there is little evidence that it even promotes job creation.
Auctioning visas, by contrast, might empower precisely the skilled immigrants that restrictionists claim to want to prioritize, while also making the system more flexible for people who don’t meet Steven Miller’s definition of a desirable addition. Advocates argue it would reduce the deadweight cost of compliance with immigration law, and could dramatically ease workplace enforcement. Finally, it would add incrementally to the treasury, creating a public constituency for progressively increasing the number of visas put up for auction.