The Argument Against Merit-Based Immigration

After speculation of Trump’s use of extremely offensive language in reference to Haiti, the president and his administration have become increasingly vocal about their support of a switch to a merit-based immigration system. A switch to a merit-based system, or “points system”, would prioritize immigrants with more “points”. Immigrants with more points have a higher level of education, work experience, etc. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders even explained that,

By definition, a merit-based system is colorblind. It's not based on race, it's not based on religion, it's not based on country of origin... it erases all of those things and makes it a much more fair system instead of picking and choosing and trying to meet quotas and different things.

While a merit-based immigration system serves as a beneficial economic tool in countries such as Canada and Australia, both of which Trump has praised for their respective immigration systems, this switch could potentially decrease diversity and disfavor countries that Trump has criticized in the past such as Mexico, Haiti, and various African countries.

At a time in which neither party is satisfied with the current state of our immigration system, forthcoming policy change is inevitable. Trump has supported immigration from countries such as Norway, perhaps due to Norway’s impressive GDP and the overall happiness of its inhabitants. If Trump wants to use immigration as a tool for economic growth, then it is unsurprising that he would want to attract happy professionals who come from a booming economy. However, many are unable to ignore that Trump has openly supported immigration from a country in which natives are stereotypically white and blond--much like Trump himself. As Republicans such as Rick Santorum continue to deny that Trump is supporting blatantly racist policies, it is important to analyze the repercussions of a merit-based immigration and how it aligns with America’s values.

One of Trump’s “four pillars” of immigration is to promote, “nuclear family migration by allowing immigration sponsorships of spouses and minor children only.” While a variety of immigration bills, such as the Secure and Succeed Act and the Grassley Bill have been introduced and are making their way through the House and Senate, the limitation or elimination of family-based immigration seems to find its way into any bill with Republican influence. Even the bipartisan bill proposed by the Common Sense Caucus aims to “curb family-based immigration programs.” Family-based immigration--or “family reunification” to Democrats and “chain migration” to Republicans--is currently the main passage of legal immigration in the United States and makes up about 65% of legal immigration annually. Currently, Mexican immigrants, a group that Trump has historically disfavored, have the highest rate of family-based immigration. Additionally,  according to the Migration Policy Institute, a migration research institute based in D.C., Mexican immigrants tend to participate in the American workforce more frequently than other immigrant groups. Specifically the Migration Policy Institute has determined that,

Mexican immigrants were much more likely to be employed in service occupations (31 percent); natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (26 percent); and production, transportation, and material-moving occupations (22 percent) than the overall foreign- and native-born populations.

Therefore, in limiting family-based immigration, the American workforce could lose this key group of workers.

A preference for “highly-skilled” workers completely ignores and devalues work traditionally occupied (statistically, these are determined to be service occupations) by foreign-born employees. While Trump and his administration may argue that these groups are contributing to the lack of jobs for American-born workers, specifically stating these immigrants are “...taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us,” this sentiment does not exactly hold true. In fact, many scholars and businesses alike have concluded that the jobs often filled by foreign-born workers are simply undesirable to American-born workers. Thus, a switch to merit-based immigration would help fill highly sought-after jobs in prominent fields while creating holes in equally important fields in the labor force. For example, the U.S Department of Agriculture even argues that an elimination of the influx of these workers,  “could have significant impacts on the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry.”

Furthermore, family-based immigration does not limit economic growth. In fact, “the percentage of new U.S. businesses started by immigrants has more than doubled in the past 15 years, from 13.3 percent in 1997 to 28.5 percent in 2014.” Therefore, even at a time of prominent family-based immigration  in the United States, immigrant workers made significant contributions to the US economy, The American Immigration Council, a D.C. based nonprofit and advocacy group, even argues that limiting family-based immigration would deter these highly-skilled immigrants from coming to the United States, asserting if “less family-friendly admission policy were to be adopted, the United States might become less attractive to highly skilled immigrants, who also have families.” Simply, no matter their education and/or skill level, people want to work and thrive in a place where they can live with their families.

Despite Republican wishes to create a “colorblind system,” severely limiting the main passageways for immigrants of color and stating a preference for immigrants from an overwhelmingly white nation is extremely problematic. Treating family-based immigration and skill-based immigration as mutually exclusive concepts reveals the racially based intentions of conservative immigration reform. It also implies that immigrants who are granted a visa from family-based immigration cannot be skilled or contribute innovate ideas to American society. Family-based immigrants work and contribute to the US economy. By eliminating family-based immigration from the US system, Republicans are suggesting that the work historically done by these immigrants is unimportant to American society and that family-based immigrants cannot fulfill the “highly-skilled” positions that Trump emphasizes in this immigration proposals. The way someone immigrated to this country does not determine the quality of their abilities and potential contributions to the labor force. Giving immigrants a variety of pathways to legal residence and/or citizenship is the best way to ensure that a variety of jobs within the US labor force are filled. Yes, attracting highly-skilled immigrants to the United States is an important and rewarding endeavor, but pushing people away because of their country of origin severely compromises the values of diversity and inclusivity that the United States has tried to uphold in many pre-Trump policies and initiatives.