“Everyone thinks the points bring the brilliant people,” said Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national organization that advocates for the legalization of undocumented immigrants. “The fact is that even the countries that started with a system like that, invented the system like that, Canada and Australia, have over the past 20-25 years moved away from a strictly diploma-based and skill-based system.”
Canada’s system, Jacoby notes, had trouble properly assessing immigrants’ qualifications. For example, would a degree from another country be recognized in the country an individual is trying to migrate to and if so, would they be a fit for the jobs that need to be filled? Over time, Canada began shifting toward an approach that specifically caters to particular industries’ needs, Jacoby added.
In the United States, there’s a need for both high-skilled immigrants and low-skilled immigrants across industries, a need for tech workers in Silicon Valley and a need for laborers in the agriculture industry. But while the administration has not released a plan for what its merit-based immigration system would look like, Trump has implied that he would prioritize high-skilled workers.
“It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon,” Trump said in his address last week. “Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits.”
George Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who studies immigration issues and has made the case for stricter immigration policies, argues that high-skilled immigrants have the potential to contribute more to the U.S. economy.
“The argument for high skilled as opposed to low skilled is two fold,” he said. “One is the perception that if you’re going to think of which kind of immigrant has the bigger potential to push outward the frontier of knowledge in this country, it would be high-skilled immigrants; two, they’re also economically beneficial in the sense that high-skilled immigrants are much more likely than low-skilled immigrants to pay higher taxes and to receive fewer services.” This, he added, is true from a purely economic perspective, but neglects to acknowledge what kind of country the United States wants to be in regard to immigration: one focused on economic outcomes or one based on values.
Michael Fix, the president of the Migration Policy Institute, argues that there’s a place for high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants, adding that over time immigrants do quite well in the economy. For example, the first generation and their children will indeed generate fiscal costs at the state and local level, but that changes with the second generation. “If you look at the second generation and higher and their children—as adults then [as] children of immigrants—[they] pay higher taxes and use fewer benefits than other natives and than other immigrants,” Fix said.