October 27, 2017

If you’ve been paying attention to the debate around immigration reform, you’ve probably come across the phrase: “merit-based immigration.” It’s a center-piece of Senator Tom Cotton’s proposed RAISE act, and President Trump called for more of it in a speech to Congress. But what exactly is merit-based immigration? And is it poised to transform the way immigrants come to America? We asked Kevin Johnson, an expert on immigration, and the Dean of the University of California Davis School of Law.

Three Takeaways 

  • If America moved towards a more merit-based immigration system, it would mean focusing less on family connections and more on things like English-language skills, having an advanced degree, and having highly-prized job skills. Which would be similar, in some ways, to the Canadian system.
  • Johnson thinks that part of the reason merit-based immigration is being proposed is that its proponents believe that current immigration levels are too high. Johnson also says that proponents of the RAISE Act, like Trump and Cotton, want to change the demographics of immigrants coming to America (to, in part, include fewer Chinese and Mexicans).
  • Johnson concludes that merit-based immigration reform could actually backfire: “I think if you limit overall migration, while focusing on people with PhDs, for example, what you’ll do is you’ll fuel future flows of undocumented immigrants.”

More reading 

  • Forbes has done a comparison of the RAISE act and Canada’s immigration model.
  • The Atlantic takes a look at the history of merit-based immigration reform in America, focusing on a system President Lyndon Johnson pushed 50 years ago.
  • Looking at another side of the immigration debate, Kevin Johnson discusses how two Supreme Court cases could change immigration enforcement.

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