The recently introduced Senate immigration bill, S. 744, creates a new merit-based point system. This would create another avenue for legal immigration, alongside the family- and employment-based and humanitarian visas.  Briefly, track one of the merit-based system awards points to applicants based on education, length of employment, type of employment, and length of residence in the U.S.  There are two tiers under the point system. Tier one is focused on high-skilled immigrants, while tier two is for lower-skilled immigrants. The merit-based point system provides a beginning allotment of 120,000 visas, which can increase 5% per year (up to 250,000 visas) based on supply and demand.

Importantly, the point system attempts to address the bill’s elimination of the sibling category, which currently allows U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers and sisters, and the 30-year age cap placed on the category for sponsorship of adult married children by awarding points for related factors. If an individual is the sibling or adult married child over 30 years old of a U.S. citizen, he or she will receive 10 points.  The Senate bill also repeals the Diversity Visa program all together, but provides a set amount of points if an applicant comes from a country from which fewer than 50,000 nationals were admitted to lawful permanent residence in the previous 5 years.

There are various concerns and unanswered questions about how this new system will impact immigrant families and diverse communities. For example, many immigrant women – who are more likely to enter on a family visa – may end up disadvantaged by the merit-based system.   A woman who has little or no formal education, speaks little English, and is a caregiver for her family may not be able accumulate enough points to obtain a visa under the new merit-based structure.  Family members may be similarly hindered by this new system unless they have enough of the other skills and attributes identified in S. 744.

Is this merit-based process a fair compromise?

Does the new system value some immigrants over others? 

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  • Andrew Riley

    I have a lot of concerns about this merit-based system. First, although the Diversity Visa program was far from perfect, it did provide a valuable lifeline for new immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and other historically underrepresented regions; simply making it an enhancement factor in a point-based system may well decrease immigration from those underrepresented areas. There’s an incredible value in diversifying our admitted immigrants, and simply doing away with the Diversity “lottery” moves us away from that goal.

    Second, I echo the concerns about women and low-income workers that other critics have expressed: the merit-based system prioritizes individuals in the traditional labor force and who have achieved a narrowly-defined level of educational attainment, which seems likely to skew upward the income distribution of new immigrants, a far cry from the “tempest-tost” migrants of visa systems past.

    Our current system isn’t working. But I’m not convinced that S. 744 works any better, given its collateral consequences.

  • Patrick Young

    Is a point system fairer than a lottery? Is that even a real question? The lottery has its origins in the decision to “legalize the Irish” and was called The Irish Sweepstakes for years. Maybe a gambling obsessed country believes this is the way immigration policy should work, but for those of us who don’t spend our vacations at Vegas, the answer is obvious.

    • EOshiro

      Do you have ideas for how we can encourage diversity among new Americans even if we move toward an explicit merit-based system?