Merit-Based Immigration Reform Is Precisely What America Needs

President Trump announced an immigration overhaul proposal on Thursday. He wants to maintain the current number of legal immigrants we admit annually at about 1.1 million, but he proposes to change our immigration system from emphasizing family re-unification to emphasizing skill-based immigrants. This is truly the best way forward to fix our broken immigration system.

For decades, our immigration laws have given overwhelming preference to applicants with family already residing in the United States. More than 60 percent of annual immigration visas are allocated for family reunification, while less than 20 percent of the annual visa quota is allocated for skill-based immigrants.

This approach doesn’t serve our nation’s needs because (a) the quota for family reunion is not based on labor-market demand; and (b) the visa preference hierarchy favors the old (parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents) and the young (children younger than 21 years of age) but discriminates against the most likely productive potential citizens, people who may not have family connections, but do have knowledge, skills, and experiences that can contribute to our country.

In addition, supporters of such a system ignore a sad irony that our immigration system, although ostensibly keyed to family reunification, causes a great deal of pain for many families due to its long delays and huge backlogs. All you have to do is take a look at the latest visa bulletin board, published by the U.S. State Department, to see the problem.

The visa bulletin shows what priority dates are current for different visa applicants. As of May, 2019, siblings of U.S. citizens who were born in Mexico can expect to wait 21 years before immigrating to America (22 years if from the Philippines). Married adult children from Mexico and Philippines can anticipate waiting 23 years.
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