Interview: Michelangelo Landgrave on a Schengen-Style Agreement for Canada, US Features
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Interview: Michelangelo Landgrave on a Schengen-Style Agreement for Canada, US

Michelangelo Landgrave is an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri’s Harry S. Truman School of Government and Public Affairs, where he focuses on state and local politics, legislative studies, and the politics of race, ethnicity, and immigration. JURIST Assistant Editor Pitasanna Shanmugathas spoke to Professor Landgrave about his thoughts on the creation of a bilateral labor agreement between Canada and the United States, drawing inspiration from Europe’s Schengen Agreement. Landgrave’s perspective has the potential to reshape how we think about cross-border immigration and its impact on the economies of both nations.

JURIST: Professor Landgrave, you published an article in the Cato Institute advocating for a bilateral labor agreement between Canada and the United States drawing from the lessons of the Schengen Agreement. To the readers of JURIST who might be unaware can you first discuss the Schengen Agreement and its significance?

Landgrave: The Schengen Agreement is a multinational agreement between most of the nations of Europe to reduce or minimize border restrictions between member states and to provide a uniform visa policy for members. Citizens of member states can, with exception, live and work in other member states. Citizens of non-member states also benefit by only having to have one visa to enter any Schengen member state. It is independent of the European Union, although most (but not all!) of the EU is part of the agreement.

JURIST: What does your proposal for a bilateral labor agreement between the Canada-United States specifically entail and how does it draw influence from the Schengen Agreement?

Landgrave: The United States and Canada already have minimal border restrictions between one another. I propose going one step further by allowing citizens of both countries to live and work in the same way that someone from California can move to and work in New York (or the other way around) with minimal paperwork. I believe that it’d be best if individuals who did so weren’t allowed to access the national welfare programs of the other country, but it should be up to individual provinces/states if they wish to open their individual programs.

JURIST: Both Canada and the United States suffer from an aging labor force and several studies have cited that both countries need immigrants to boost the economy. Talk about how your proposed bilateral labor agreement may contribute towards rectifying this issue by growing the economy for both countries.  

Landgrave: Both Canada and the United States have similar demographics, so this agreement alone wouldn’t be enough to solve the problems of an aging labor force. My hope though is that the success of a US-Canadian Schengen zone would show voters the merits of expanding the zone to include other countries. Even if we only allow other English speaking to join, there are the Bahamas, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations that were formerly part of the British empire. These additional countries have young laborers who would be more than happy to work in the US for a few years, and then return to retire in their home countries. I suspect many US citizens would welcome the chance to retire to a Caribbean paradise island!

JURIST: What is significant in your proposal is that you cite surveys showing how both Democrats and Republicans in the United States would support the free movement of Canadians across their border to live or to live and work. Talk about that.

Landgrave: As I show in my Cato study, majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agree to a US-Canadian Schengen Zone under certain conditions: (1) if the policy is reciprocal, (2) if the policy includes the ability to work, and (3) if the policy excludes access to welfare programs. This is an important finding since Republicans are generally opposed to relaxing immigration restrictions. I’ve replicated the study several times since then to see if the results hold up, including most recently in 2023, and I’m happy to say it holds up!

JURIST: Under your bilateral labor agreement, how could Americans who want to travel and work freely in Canada be able to do so? What kind of Schengen inspired immigration reform do you suggest Canada adopt?

Landgrave: In my preferred version, US/Canadian citizens should be able to travel to one another’s country to visit using just their state or provincial IDs. If they wish to work, they wouldn’t have to do anything special. Canadians would only need to apply for a social security number and US citizens would do something similar if they wanted to work in Canada. No caps. No restrictions on the type of jobs you can get. No restrictions on who you can work for. It should be as easy to move to California to British Columbia as it is move from California to Maryland.

JURIST: To implement the bilateral labor agreement, your proposal suggests a minor Congressional amendment to the Canadian Trade National (TN) visa extending the time limit for Canadians to live and work in the US from three years to ten years and maintaining the indefinite renewal option. However, given the fairly strong support by Americans for free movement of Canadians across their border, why not advocate for a broader Schengen-style proposal, where Canadian and American citizens are able to travel, reside, and work between the two countries without any visa requirement?  

Landgrave: If politically possible, I would favor a broader Schengen-style proposal as you’ve outlined. The only reason I would propose reforming the TN visa is that it could provide a much-needed revenue stream for the USCIS if applicants were charged a small fee, say $300, to renew their visa every ten years. USCIS, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, relies on user fees to fund its operation. The fees collected from an expanded TN visa would allow it to hire the needed personnel to better run other immigration services. Politically it would also create a pro-immigration bureaucracy with a vested interest in advocating Congress to maintain and expand the Schengen-style zone.

JURIST: You have characterized current US immigration law, due to its restrictions, as contributing towards wage theft, discrimination, and other labor abuses. However, your Canada-US bilateral labor agreement advocates for restricted welfare access. Wouldn’t failing to provide Canadian immigrants working in the United States with welfare access, and vice-versa, also contribute towards labor abuses because of the inherent economic disparity that would inevitably remain between Canadian and US workers? Currently, Schengen citizens who work and reside in another Schengen country have access to social benefits and services—why not the same for a Canada-US Schengen?

Landgrave: My concern about expanding welfare services is political. US citizens, and you are starting to see this with Canadians too, hate the idea of migrants abusing welfare services. If you look at the numbers, migrants don’t abuse welfare services. They use welfare services at lower rates compared to others with similar characteristics. Which makes sense. Immigration tends to positively select healthy hard-working individuals. I personally wouldn’t be against providing welfare services to migrants, but I think -and my study shows- the popularity of a Schengen-style zone would decrease substantially if migrants had access to welfare programs. Denying them access to welfare programs might create some inequities, but migrants would still be better off than if they weren’t allowed to migrate in the first place.

JURIST: What are your thoughts on the current nature of America’s immigration policies—the heavily militarized borders, the manner in which the United States treats migrants and asylum seekers?

Landgrave: I am disgusted by our current immigration policies. The United States is a nation of migrants. It is migration that allowed the United States to rapidly industrialize and become the world’s superpower. Restricting migrants isn’t just a betrayal of American principles, but it’s also bad defense policy. If we want to retain our position as the world’s superpower, we need people. We need people to work. We need people to serve in our military. The scarcest resource isn’t oil or water – it’s humans.

JURIST: If there is a Canada-US Schengen style agreement that is implemented, I think that would be a significant achievement because it may bring into discussion the concept of a broader Schengen for the Americas (Canada, the United States, Mexico, as well as a select number of Latin American countries). Such a possibility seems inconceivable now given the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric and strong militarized border security policies by many politicians in the United States. However, I think the implementation of an Americas Schengen agreement would not necessarily mean sacrificing security. In fact, it could lead to enhanced border cooperation through intelligence sharing, combating transnational threats, strengthening border controls through establishing a standardized visa and entry procedures making it harder for criminals to exploit loopholes or discrepancies in border control. Although there is economic disparity, such disparity could motivate nations to seek closer integration. Developed nations like Canada and the US could benefit from access to larger markets in less developed countries like Mexico and a select number of Latin American countries, leading to increased trade and investment.  An Americas Schengen-style agreement could also enhance labor mobility as individuals could explore a broader job market encompassing multiple countries and, in turn, contribute to regional economic growth by matching labor supply with demand more efficiently.  The Americas face common challenges such as security threats, environmental issues, and health crises. A Schengen-style agreement can provide a framework for addressing these issues collectively, leveraging the strength of unity to tackle shared problems. What are your thoughts on this?

Landgrave: I agree fully. A Schengen-style agreement between the United States and Canada is just the beginning. The end goal should be to expand it to all democratic nations. Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, India, and others are obvious next steps. They’re our military allies. They speak English and share our cultural values. What I love about a Schengen-style agreement is that it doesn’t require us to sacrifice our national sovereignty. The United States would still retain its ability to control its borders and decide who can come. By cooperating with our allies, we can solve our labor needs without sacrificing our ability to act in our best interest.

I agree that it would be a good idea to include Mexico and other parts of Latin America too. Remember – part of the benefit of this agreement is that US citizens could also live and work in other countries. Mexico would be a great country to retire to. Warm beautiful beaches. Your dollar buys more down there. Mexico is already home to the largest population of US citizens abroad for a reason.