US Immigration Reform and The Proposition of “Merit Based” Immigration

US Immigration Reform and The Proposition of “Merit Based” Immigration

Post by Elliott Duessel. Colgate Class of 2023.

The election of President Donald Trump in November of 2016 brought a new regime and ideology to the White House. Trump’s regime contains a populist rhetoric towards immigration that has taken hold recently. His rhetoric has resulted in a decrease of 29% in applications for immigration status based on family ties between 2017 and 2019 alone (Pierce and Meissener, 2020). President Trump recently proposed a new, merit based immigration model after numerous campaign promises to curtail the flow of immigrants into the United States in order to protect American interests as a part of his “America First” ideology. President Trump and his administration want to shift away from the almost 70% family tie related immigration to one in which almost 57% of migrants are selected based on merit (White House, 2020). In this context, a merit based immigration model contains a point system that quantitatively assesses the possible value of an immigrant or group to the United States. The proposal suggests that immigrants will be valued by their youth, level of education, prospective offers of employment, and possession of valuable skills among other delineating factors that would quantify the prospective worth of an individual’s immigration into the United States (Chishti and Bolter, 2019). While this proposed system is new for the United States, it is not so in other parts of the world as it is seen in countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The policy proposed by President Trump has the potential to positively select for parts of individuals that could lead to the alienation of entire socioeconomic groups in an effort to alter the makeup of incoming immigrants.

Possible Effects and Repercussions

The process of implementing a merit based immigration system in the United States has not yet been undertaken, rather only proposed and thus the possible effects discussed will be in the context of other countries that have implemented similar policies. If the policy proposed by President Trump were to be implemented, then the makeup of immigrants in the US would change regardless of their origin country. When looking at Australia, there is clear data that suggests significant demographic changes after the implementation of a policy, in 1989, similar to that of what President Trump has proposed. The act of quantifying an individual’s characteristics results in the selection of those with more to give to the country and less of those trying to unite with their families.

The effects of this policy are assumed to be relatively similar across those nations that use it and it is important to consider the differences in effects, both intentional and unintentional, of the US trying this practice. While this process of selection will result in more families being separated, the merit based focus will also result in the positive selection of education within immigrant cohorts.

In addition to this, the desired positive selection of skill level will most likely result in thousands of low-skill migrants originating from South and Central America to be prevented from immigrating into the United States. This selective immigration policy will also result in the alienation of individuals because they might not fit into the ideal demographics that the government has put forward. More specifically, the policy being implemented within the United States could cause an ethnic shift within, through admissions rates, the immigrant population as the share of Asian and European immigrants would most likely increase while the number of Hispanic immigrants would decrease. This is due to statistical differences that are connected to the challenges that come with immigrating. As Asian and European immigrants face a greater distance and thus costs, it is more likely that the overseas cohort of applicants will be more affluent and thus educated than that of the geographically closer, Hispanic, cohort.

Summary and Final Conclusions

Using other countries as a metric of theoretical effect, the implementation of a “merit based” immigration policy would fulfill President Trump’s campaign promises as well as positively select for higher education and socioeconomic status within immigrant applicant cohorts. In doing so there would be a higher share of immigrants coming from overseas and a smaller portion from the neighboring countries in the Americas. Simultaneously, there would be a significant decrease in the number of individuals allowed residency based family unification desires. While the policy would shift the demographic of incoming immigrants, the merit-centric selection process would bolster the US labor market and skill distribution.

Productivity Commission 2006, Economic Impacts of Migration and Population Growth, Final Report, April.

“President Trump’s Bold Immigration Plan for the 21st Century.” The White House. The United States Government, May 21, 2019.

Pierce, Sara, and Doris, Meissner. “USCIS Budget Implosion Owes to Far More than the Pandemic.”, June 19, 2020.

Chishti, Muzaffar, and Jessica, Bolter. “‘Merit-Based’ Immigration: Trump Proposal Would Dramatically Revamp Immigrant Selection Criteria, But with Modest Effects on Numbers,” September 28, 2020.

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