Simplifying US Visas

H1B’s. U-visas. J1’s, F1’s, guest worker permits, green cards, tourist visas.

There are too many types of visas. And they’re too temporary, too revokable, too dependent on the whims of a ‘sponsor’.

How about simplifying to just three groups of people:

  • Citizens. Born or naturalized.
  • Residents. Persons residing long-term or permanently in the country. They are entitled to all the rights and privileges of citizenry except voting, holding elected office, and possibly armed service. They can work, go to school, or whatever. Since continued residency is not required to maintain resident status, international commuters can classify as residents. Residents are eligible for citizenship after a reasonable waiting period (say 5 years, spending 54 of the last 60 months in the country), a civics test, and maybe an English proficiency test.
  • Visitors. Persons in the country temporarily. They only reason this category exists is to let people into the country for business or pleasure without setting up a taxpayer number for them. The ‘temporary’ is not enforced. Visitors probably don’t qualify for many social services, except for health care (if/when we get public health care). If a visitor wants to stay long-term, they can go to their local immigration office, fill out a bit of paperwork, and get their taxpayer number.

Resident status is not contingent on an employer, family member, or school sponsoring you. Residents and citizens alike are subject to the same law. And if the law isn’t appropriate for one class, we should really question if it is appropriate for the others.

If we switch from income taxes to a consumption tax (fair tax, VAT, something like that), then we may be able to do away with the visitor/resident distinction as well.

Both visitor and resident status should be easy to get, but that’s a subject for another post.