Point System Not the Right Way to Resolve the U.S. Immigration Problem

June 2007

The points-based "merit" system being considered in Congress is a radical departure from our existing immigration system. It would virtually eliminate the relationship-based format we now use (where employers and family members sponsor individuals to come here) and replace it with one based on points awarded for certain characteristics like age, education, and English proficiency. Earn enough points, and you can apply for a green card.

Simply put, this is not a solution to the problems plaguing our immigration system, nor does it comport with the values upon which our country was built. Such a system has some superficial appeal, but scratch the surface and it becomes clear that this revolutionary overhaul is an exercise in social experimentation on the grandest scale.

Many problems are inherent in a merit system:

  • First, it represents a wholesale revamping of the philosophical foundations of our immigration system. A merit system unhinges the immigration system from its grounding in relationships, be they employment- or family- based.
  • Second, a merit system lumps all immigrant workers into a single pool, whatever the skill level. Even beyond the gross inadequacy of the numbers being proposed, this would severely curtail family immigration, and favor high-skilled over less-skilled workers, leaving industries like agriculture and construction without necessary manpower.
  • Third, a merit system would allow federal government bureaucracy to reign supreme. It would empower the government to take over the role of employer in selecting who is best for jobs and filling labor gaps. This could leave some high-skilled industries without the workers required to fill specific positions, since employers no longer would be able to recruit the specialized knowledge and skills they need. Such a system - in which we rely on the government to choose - would therefore compromise labor market flexibility, and threaten the United State's long-term economic competitiveness and stability.

In sum, instituting a merit system is a shortsighted "fix" with few long-term benefits and many deleterious consequences. Congress is proceeding down a dangerous path in trying to implement it without having researched how it might work and whether it would solve our immigration problems. A radical immigration overhaul, such as the merit system represents, deserves far more than the cursory review and blanket approval Congress appears to have given it thus far. We must first determine whether it is the fairest, most efficient and workable system for our country.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 07060562.