Several years ago, I moved from Colorado to Connecticut. I had a job opportunity in Stamford, Connecticut and on my daughter’s first birthday, we packed up and moved. Moving across the country was one of the hardest things I had ever done. We had no family or friends in Connecticut. For the first year, the law firm where I worked was the only network we had to the community. The only reason it was a successful move was because I moved for a job. My experience highlights some of the problems with the RAISE Act and its companion bill in the House, the Immigration in the National Interest Act.
When the President endorsed the RAISE Act that Senators Perdue and Cotton introduced on August 2, 2017, I shuddered. The stated outcome of this bill is to cut lawful immigration to the USA by at least half over the next decade. This bill would drastically change the United States’ immigration system, but would not improve it. The changes fall into two broad categories: employment sponsorship would change to self-sponsorship based on a points system and most family sponsorship would be eliminated.
The concept of a points-based immigration system is not new. Both Canada and Australia use points systems to administer their immigration laws. On its face, a points system may appear to be simple to administer because it does not consider any local unemployment statistics or job opportunities. There is no evaluation of employers or job opportunities to determine whether the immigrants will be able to work full-time and be paid a reasonable wage in their field. A points system assumes that people with certain traits will be more successful by definition. But, that is not necessarily true.
A points system is a cookie cutter approach that attempts to identify immigrants who are more likely to integrate into the USA and contribute to American society. That approach is much more heavy-handed and government-driven than we need. A points system assumes that the federal government can identify the needs of the U.S. economy and society better than the free market can. Is that truly what conservatives believe?
For all of its flaws, our current employment-based immigration system at least tries to use a market-driven analysis before someone can obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States. Before sponsoring a foreign worker for lawful permanent residency, employers are first required to take certain steps to recruit U.S. workers. Employers must prove they can afford to employ the immigrant and that the immigrant must prove that she is qualified for the job before the immigrant receives the green card (permanent residence). This process is driven by the employer’s actual business needs. This process considers the local economy and job market. It also ensures that the immigrant is working in his or her field.
This leads to the other problem with a points-based immigration system. A points-based system allows people to immigrate to a new country without having any actual ties to that country. Immigrants to Canada and Australia land without any network or support system other than the government safety net. They may not have a job waiting for them. They may not have family nearby to support them. Many Canadian and Australian immigrants end up taking the first available job rather than a job in their chosen field.
Under the points system proposed in the RAISE Act, theoretically I would be a good immigrant: I am fluent in English and I have a professional degree. That does not mean, however, that I could move anywhere in the United States and automatically be contributing the best of my abilities to that city or state. Dropping someone anywhere in the United States without any ties to the community or job prospects is not a way to ensure that the person successfully integrates into the United States or contributes to our economy and society.
Smart, balanced, rational immigration reform is something we desperately need. However, neither the RAISE Act in the Senate, nor the companion bill in the House, the Immigration in the National Interest Act, exhibit those qualities. Tell Congress so, using real world examples of successful immigrants who would have been left behind if these bills are enacted. It has been a generation since our last major immigration law overhaul – let’s make it worthwhile, and worth the wait.