March 20, 2017
Occasionally President Donald Trump tweets something worthwhile. Such was the case earlier this month when he praised the skills-based immigration systems of Canada and Australia.
QuickTake Immigration Reform
Canada, which in 1967 became the first nation to use a points system, grades applicants to its Federal Skilled Worker Program on six factors: work experience, education, language ability, age, arranged employment and a more subjective measure of “adaptability.” To be eligible for a permanent resident visa, an applicant must accumulate enough points in the various categories to “pass.”
The result is that about 60 percent of permanent residents admitted to Canada are admitted for economic reasons. (Others are admitted mostly on the basis of family ties or refugee status.) In other words: Canada values high skills, and selects its immigrants accordingly.
It’s no mystery why. Studies show that skilled immigrants increase productivity, create jobs and spark entrepreneurship. One-quarter of technology and engineering firms established in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder. U.S. immigrants are responsible for a disproportionately high number of international patent applications. Roughly 40 percent of Indian immigrants to the U.S., for example, have a graduate degree, almost four times the rate of native-born Americans.
U.S. immigration law currently values family ties over skills. A points system similar to Canada’s would reverse that preference. Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue have introduced legislation to accomplish such a switch, scaling back family-based migration to the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
But the bill would also drastically reduce immigration overall. It would end the 50,000 annual “diversity visas,” a lottery system that admits immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration, and it would cap green cards for refugees at 50,000. Its sponsors’ aim is to reduce immigration by 50 percent in 10 years — to about 540,000 annually.
Recalibrating U.S. immigration policy to prioritize high skills makes sense. Cutting overall immigration levels in half, however, is too a high price to pay. To keep their skills pipeline stocked, both Canada and Australia welcome a higher percentage of immigrants, based on national population, than the U.S. does — more than twice as high, in fact.
The question of whether unskilled immigration suppresses wages at the low end of the labor market is much in dispute. Meanwhile, the H-1B program for temporary work visas has been subject to fraud and abuse, and often hurts mid-level U.S. employees, some of whom have trained their own replacements.
By contrast, there is little question of the benefits of highly skilled immigrants. Even if a flood of such immigrants — and no one is recommending an open invitation — slightly depressed wages for people with PhDs in science and technology, the result would be a gentle corrective to four decades of rising inequality based largely on skills.
Immigration politics remains highly contentious. Trump was elected in part on an anti-immigrant wave, and there is little support for the current system, which affords too little consideration of economic goals. A points system similar to those used in Canada and Australia could rectify that mistake. But if it proves to be a ruse for clamping down on immigration indiscriminately, the U.S. will fall behind in the global competition for talent. You can’t score points without the right players.
To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at email@example.com.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com