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September 17, 2017

RAISE Act: Kevin Johnson and global scholars explain "merit-based" immigration

[Cross-posted from The Conversation]

Editor’s note: In February, U.S. Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, with President Donald Trump, unveiled an immigration bill called the RAISE Act. It would create a “merit-based” points system for evaluating foreigners applying to come to the U.S. through an employment visa.

 

The senators said that in drafting it, they had looked to best practices for points-based systems like those in Canada and Australia. As Congress takes up the issue of immigration, we turned to our global network of scholars to get their perspective on how points systems work.



Kevin Johnson – University of California, Davis, United States

The RAISE Act would drastically reshape American immigration. It will also likely have the unintended consequence of increasing undocumented immigration.

Approximately one million immigrants are granted lawful permanent residence in the U.S. every year. 

The RAISE Act would cut annual legal immigrant admissions by one-half, primarily by eliminating family-sponsored immigration visas for those who are not spouses or minor children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. This would reduce the total number of family-sponsored green cards from 226,000 to 88,000. Cuts to family-based immigration would primarily affect prospective immigrants from Mexico, China, India, the Philippines and Cuba.

These changes would transform the overall U.S. immigration system from primarily family-based to employment-based. Under the current system, most employment-based immigrants are highly skilled and make up only about 14 percent of those who receive green cards.

Under the RAISE Act, employment-based immigrants would make up a majority of those who receive green cards. The bill would create new criteria for evaluating the most highly skilled applicants.

In the proposed points system, applicants would earn points for meeting certain criteria such as age (preference for person between ages 26 and 30), investing US$1.35 million in the U.S. and having a degree. Extra points are awarded for degrees earned in the U.S. and in a STEM field. Nobel Prize winners, professional athletes and English language speakers would also get extra points.

The bill also seeks to eliminate the Diversity Visa program, which allocates 50,000 visas a year for countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. In addition it would cap refugee admissions at 50,000, which would be the lowest ceiling set in modern U.S. history. 

Halving legal immigration will likely increase the pressures for undocumented immigration. The current limits on legal immigration have already brought roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants to the U.S. 

This is especially the case because the merit-based system will not address the high demand in the United States for low- and medium-skilled workers in the agricultural, construction and service industries. 

Alex Reilly – University of Adelaide, Australia

In 2015-16, Australia accepted 189,770 permanent migrants through its skilled and family immigration streams. In addition, Australia permanently resettled just under 18,000 refugees and other humanitarian migrants. This has been the level of migration to Australia for more than 10 years, adding nearly 1 percent to the Australian population of 24 million every year. This is a considerably larger proportion than the U.S. admits through its migration programs.

Twenty years ago, more migrants came through the family stream than the employer stream. In 2015-16, 67.7 percent of migrants came through the skilled stream and 30.8 percent through the family stream. This change is a direct result of government policy prioritizing skilled migration because of its contribution to the economy.

However, these figures are deceptive, as numbers in the skilled migration stream include partners and dependents of primary applicants. So approximately half of all skilled migrants are actually family members of skilled migrants who do not have to meet the eligibility requirements of the primary applicant.

There are two pathways for skilled migration. The first, general skilled migration, requires applicants to have occupations on the skilled occupation list. Most of these skills are in professional areas such as medicine or engineering, or trades in demand in the economy such as plumbers and electricians. The list is updated regularly based on an assessment of Australia’s economic needs.

Visas for this group are awarded on a points system similar to what is being proposed in the U.S. Points are awarded for age, English language proficiency, skilled employment outside Australia, skilled employment in Australia and qualifications that are linked to occupations on the skilled occupation list. There are also points available for an Australian education, being accredited in a community language, studying in regional Australia, partner qualifications and completing a professional year in Australia. Although migrants in this skilled stream are highly qualified, they do not necessarily find employment in their area of expertise and many remain underemployed. 

The second pathway is for skilled migrants with an employer sponsor. This pathway is open to migrants with wider range of skills and has the advantage of migrants being in guaranteed employment when they first arrive in Australia. Employers must demonstrate that they have a skilled position available, and that there are no Australians willing or able to take up the position. This requires employers to have advertised jobs locally before seeking migrants to do the work. 

Almost all employer-sponsored migrants apply from within Australia, and 44 percent of independent skilled migrants also apply from within Australia, transitioning from temporary work, international student and working holiday maker visas. This reflects the very high number of temporary migrants working and studying on these visas in Australia – 750,000 in December 2016.

Mireille Paquet – Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

In 2015-2016, Canada admitted 271,845 permanent immigrants. Canada’s permanent migration inflows resemble those of Australia but are generally smaller than those received by the United States. Immigration is the largest contributor to population growth in Canada since the early 2000s.

The permanent immigration program is divided into three main streams: economic, family and humanitarian. The economic stream accounted for about 60 percent of the total permanent immigration to Canada in 2015-2016. Family made up 24 percent of the total immigration to the country. These proportions have remained relatively stable over the last 15 years, with economic immigration representing the largest share of those selected for permanent settlement in the countries. 

The economic stream for permanent immigration is currently divided into several programs. The Federal Skilled Workers Program is often used as the flagship example of Canada’s approach to selecting immigrants in relation to their expected economic contributions. U.S. President Donald Trump has praised it on the grounds that it would create economic mobility for both native-born Americans and immigrants.

To be considered, candidates must meet baseline criteria for work experience, language proficiency in at least one of the two official languages – French or English – and education. Candidates are then assessed using a 100-point selection grid that considers factors such as education, experience, age, arranged employment in Canada and adaptability. Adaptability refers to spouse or partner language level, past work studies in Canada for the applicant and spouse or partner, and the existence of relatives in Canada.

To be eligible, a candidate must score 67 points or higher. The pool of eligible candidates are then ranked. The highest-ranking individuals receive invitations to apply for permanent residence. This system, called Express Entry, relies on a comprehensive ranking system that involves a total of 1,000 factors. The minister of immigration issues the number of invitations to be extended every month.

Despite a sophisticated assessment system, research demonstrates that immigrants to Canada still face challenges in finding jobs and achieving economic mobility in the short and medium term. Gender, race and geographic position in the country and employment sector are all factors that affect economic integration of immigrants to Canada.