While politicians, the press, and immigration advocates continue to criticize the “broken” U.S. immigration system, there is one country whose immigration model consistently receives praise: Canada. Our northern neighbor has one of the highest proportion of immigrants among the G8 countries—one in five Canadian residents is foreign-born. The Canadian people overwhelmingly support immigration, with 86 percent rating ‘multiculturalism’ as either “very important” or “at least somewhat important” to the national identity, according to a 2010 Focus Canada survey. The hallmark of the Canadian immigration system is its points system, first implemented in 1967. Skilled workers wishing to come to Canada are ranked and accorded points based on a variety of factors, such as their language skills, education level, work experience, adaptability, age, and whether they have a job offer. However, the points system only accounts for one-quarter of all immigrants arriving in Canada. The rest enter the country though other channels, such as the Federal Skilled Worker program or the Provincial Nominee Program. In contrast, the United States follows a demand-led selection model for immigrants, where employers select economic migrants. Although this has several benefits, such as a guaranteed job offer for new immigrants, evidence shows that a hybrid system that also incorporates points would best serve the needs of foreign workers, American employers, and the general public. Below are five reasons to include a points-based system into our foreign worker selection model:
- Points-based systems allow for the flexible adjustment of workers to meet labor market needs and the demand for specific skills
A scoring mechanism allows the country to promote economic development by admitting workers who possess certain skills that are in short supply in the U.S. Additional market research and evaluation would then allow for the adjustment of points. For instance, points can be configured to automatically decrease immigration during recession periods and increase migrant flows during economic recoveries. Since the system is based on labor complementarity, admitting skilled migrants would lead to a knowledge “spillover” for U.S. workers as well as generate additional jobs.
- Points-based systems make the immigration of foreign workers more objective and transparent, thereby promoting greater acceptance of immigration
By setting clear standards for selecting immigrants, the government would indicate to the public that it is in control of economic immigration. The association between economic credentials and incoming immigrants would present immigration as an economically beneficial phenomenon and would create a more welcoming attitude towards immigrants.
- Points-based systems grant foreign workers greater job mobility by not tying them down to specific jobs or employers
While an employer-selection model automatically guarantees a job offer upon arrival, it also makes workers increasingly dependent on their employers. Since they are tied to specific jobs, they may find it difficult to respond to changing labor demand. Depending on their visa conditions, workers who leave or lose their jobs may also be required to leave the country.
- Points-based systems would eliminate the current backlog of visa applicants
The U.S. cap for H-1B visas (skilled temporary workers) is currently set at 85,000 per year. Last year, this quota was reached within the first week of the filing period. There is clearly a higher demand for temporary work visas, and the cap is only limiting the inflow of highly skilled professionals. Meanwhile, a points-based system would provide immigrants with an additional route to enter the country. For example, while the system would prioritize immigrants who already have a job offer, it would not make this employment offer compulsory, allowing other qualified applicants to enter the U.S and find work. Furthermore, the application process is very straightforward: applicants answer a set of questions and a ‘points calculator’ determines if they qualify for immigration.
- Points-based systems would have a positive fiscal impact on the economy
The points-based system would prioritize skilled workers, who tend to have higher earnings. As a result, they pay more in taxes than they consume in public services. This positive net fiscal contribution would also help shift public opinion about immigration. Although the benefits of a points-based system are clear, it is important to remember that it is not the magic cure for immigration reform in the United States. As Demetrios Papademetrio of the Migration Policy Institute said, “A point system is one of the things we should put in our policy tool-kit, but it is not the only one.” Still, policymakers would do well in discussing the merits and limitations of an innovative approach like the point system. Not only does it have the potential to improve the current immigration system, but it also has a proven track record of working elsewhere. Most importantly, it would show the American public that bipartisan cooperation on immigration is in fact possible.