The recent immigration reform bill, known as S. 744. includes a merit-based point system that will be used as a means of allocating new immigrant visas each year. If this system is implemented, a minimum of 120,000 aliens would be permitted to obtain immigrant visas based on accumulated points. These points are based on skills, employment history, and education. With the introduction of this system, current visas that are to be allocated to siblings and adult married children of U.S. citizens would be included in the new process.
While there is no doubt that this program was created with good intentions, it leaves some aliens at a disadvantage. Women, those working in the informal economy (unpaid work), those with family ties to U.S. citizens with insufficient human capital credentials, middle age and older adults, and applicants from less-developed countries all stand to lose out in one way or another.
So, how exactly does this point system work? First of all, it is simply a way for governments to determine who is eligible to enter their countries. Other countries, like Canada and Australia, have already seen success with point-based systems.
The point system is usually an addition to already existing immigration systems. It is not used as the sole method of determining visa allocation. Point systems are usually lists used by the country in order to categorize an applicant's desirable characteristics. Points are often awarded for education, occupation, language ability, age, and work experience.
A point system is usually given a set “pass mark.” A pass mark is a set total number of points that a person must obtain before entering the country. In the past, point systems have been criticized for focusing too much on factors such as English proficiency, job skills, and education because it inevitably disadvantages workers who are less skilled.
Specifically, the point system described in S. 744 provides for the following:
- Between 120,000 and 250,000 visas would be allocated each year based on the point system;
- Beginning in the 5th fiscal year after the enactment of the bill, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would allocate merit-based visas in two tiers: (a) 50% to applicants with the highest number of points allocated under tier 1 and (b) 50% to applicants with the highest number of points allocated under tier 2.
- There is no “pass mark” specified in this bill;
- The allocation of points in both tiers is based on a combination of factors, including education, employment, occupation, civic involvement, English proficiency, family ties, age, and nationality; and
- The way in which points are distributed does not value each of the characteristics evenly. The system heavily favors employment and education.
There is a concern of gender bias associated with this point system. There are many countries in which women do not receive or have access to as much education or work opportunities as men. Invariably, this will lead to women being awarded fewer points than men. Another area of discrimination may come from an immigrant's age. The bill seems to be in contrast with other U.S. policy. Younger immigrants are given more points than those who are older. Keeping older immigrants out may deprive the U.S. of benefitting from the different experiences and skills that older individuals tend to have.
Of course, there are additional benefits and concerns related to this point system than what I was able to cover in this short post. If you have questions on how immigration reform may affect you or a loved one's status, contact my office today!