In the US there is a long-standing issue with H1B (work) visas, where there's many more applicants than free spots, which results in a sort of lottery on who gets to immigrate to the US. Likewise the diversity lottery only accepts 0.5% of applicants because there are simply far too many people willing to immigrate to the US.

But why rely on lotteries to decide who gets to immigrate? Why not simply auction-off every single long-term residency visa using a second-price auction or a Dutch auction? This could allow the country to completely eliminate all rules on who is allowed to immigrate (except for basic things like the lack of criminal records) and simply rely on the free market to decide which people are currently in demand by the economy. Likewise it would be impossible for companies to abuse the system to invite underpaid workers as only the most valuable employees would make the cut.

Or perhaps there are already countries which use auctions to decide their immigration policy?

  • well there are as well fixed amounts of money for business immigration, but I get the point. Interesting question.
    – J. Doe
    Nov 19, 2017 at 15:10
  • @JDoe if you have a straight-up auction system companies could fire all immigration lawyers (which are very expensive) and pay the money directly, with a guaranteed result or refund. You could likewise auction off residency visa extensions and eliminate the need to provide documents justifying the continuing need to stay in the country. Nov 19, 2017 at 15:14
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    This is phrased in a way that suggests it is representing a particular point of view, and so off-topic.
    – James K
    Nov 19, 2017 at 19:44
  • Diversity visa's whole purpose would be negated by an auction; unless held per-country.
    – user4012
    Nov 19, 2017 at 23:42
  • @user4012 can be per country as well. Anything's better than random. Nov 19, 2017 at 23:54

2 Answers 2


Why not simply auction-off every single long-term residency visa using a second-price auction or a Dutch auction?

In general this may be seen as sending out the wrong message i.e. people can buy their way into the US. under current law immigrant workers can get a green card and then apply for citizen ship in five years. This is potentially very easy to play for example a person could pay the company to bid more and get themselves into the country and hence are on their way to citizenship.

Many companies would not be able to pay the market price. so instead of a range of companies getting getting a small number immigrant workers each a small handful of probably larger companies that can afford to pay will get a larger number of immigrant workers. This could really hit smaller businesses

it would be impossible for companies to abuse the system to invite underpaid workers

A reason for allowing immigration is exactly this, to ensure that companies can gain access to cheap labour and so that there is a certain labour surplus (which keeps the price of labour down)

This could allow the country to completely eliminate all rules on who is allowed to immigrate

Perhaps, but it would simply require a whole range of other laws about how bidding works, what companies can bid, people not buying their way in and so on. Also their may be emigration routes not suited to this kind of approach (i.e. where their is no company to bid).

There may be a range of other issues depending on how this is implemented but I think that these are the main consideration with this policy.

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    Well, people can already buy their way into the US through investor visas, so that's nothing new. And small businesses are already suffering because it costs a lot of money to bring someone into the country using the H1B system (lawyers, application fees, etc). Nov 19, 2017 at 17:26
  • @JonathanReez yes but they have to invest or be in the process of investing"$1 million (or $500,000 in targeted employment areas) in a new commercial enterprise that will benefit the U.S. economy and create at least 10 full-time positions" note the full time jobs, it isn't just pay and get in. You are right about about the expense, sources vary on what exactly the cost is but it shouldn't be so bad that it would be impossible for a small business (especially as they get discounts) Nov 19, 2017 at 18:44
  • If you have a few million dollars nothing stops you from opening a couple of restaurants in the US for the sake of hiring 10 employees. The US doesn't force you to start a successful - you might as well completely lose your initial investment just to get a visa. Hence it's effectively a way to pay your way into the US. Sep 25, 2018 at 16:25
  • It seems like you want the companies to pay for this. They probably do not want to do that, so I would expect a certain amount of pressure for politicians bringing such a proposal forward.
  • If the individual should pay for it, then you might get situations where people who have a lot of money but no income immigrate, which is generally not what you want to achieve with work visas.
  • The believe that the invisible hand of the market magically results in optimal outcomes is not universally accepted.
  • Not everyone agrees that economic reasons are the only valid reasons to allow permanent residency. That is why the diversity lottery or the possibility for asylum or refuge exist, or why family members of residents may apply for residency.
  • Additionally, some value work that is done outside of highly profitable industries. Sure you want bankers and engineers to immigrate, but some might also value professors, artists, or religious workers.
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    Companies already waste tens of thousands of dollars on getting each H1B employee (lawyers, application fees, etc) into the country, with the result not guaranteed under the current system. And you can have sub-lotteries for universities so that they have the chance to hire too. Nov 19, 2017 at 17:23
  • @JonathanReez: There is a vast difference between spending a known amount for a known uncertainty of getting the visum, and knowing that you'll get into a bidding war with companies whose budgets far surpass yours. It's effectively going to ensure that foreign workers are only available to the largest corporations. Even if you put things up for auction, the companies will still initially spend the money in doing the needed paperwork - the opposite would mean that they bid on a visum before they've even ascertained that the applicant can be hired/allowed into the country.
    – Flater
    Sep 25, 2018 at 13:21
  • @Flater high skilled foreign workers are already pretty much limited to companies with deep pockets, as it's very expensive to get through the hurdles of visa bureaucracy and it usually takes 6+ months to finish the process. Why pay $50k to a lawyer when you can just pay that to the government and get a guaranteed result? And in my proposal absolutely no paperwork would be required beyond a criminal check. Sep 25, 2018 at 16:23

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