Donald Trump has made cuts to immigration a major focus since the beginning of his presidential campaign. From the border wall and massive deportation to the ongoing DACA debate, Trump’s hardline stance on immigration has been anything but subtle.
As of late, his focus is on merit-based immigration and ending family-based immigration, or “chain migration.” In an opinion piece for The Washington Times, Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued that a merit-based system would allow “the best and brightest” to enter the country, saying that the current system relies on whether or not the individual has a relative in the U.S. to sponsor them rather than assessing their potential contributions.
Donald Trump’s definition of “merit” is not crystal clear. His proposed system, modeled after Canada’s, assigns points based on factors such as work experience, age, and language skills. The U.S. proposal, however, accounts for spouses’ points, which can affect the applicant’s total points. For example, if the spouse scores lower than the applicant in their education or English skills, the applicant’s score would be lowered, putting them in a difficult position to immigrate with their family.
This proposed system would essentially reduce legal immigration by making applicants decide whether to immigrate or stay with their families.
An analysis by David Bier and Stuart Anderson of the White House plan concludes that the number of legal immigrants would be cut by up to 44 percent annually, equating to nearly 22 million fewer legal immigrants over the next five decades. It’s important to note that reducing legal immigration will not affect the number of undocumented immigrants in the country, especially those working in lower-skilled jobs.
If the administration truly wants to adjust immigration policy to improve the economy, it might be wiser to favor highly skilled immigrants in specialty industries. However, the Department of Homeland Security said it would revise the definition of “specialty occupation” through the H1-B visa program, thus making it harder for skilled immigrants to legally work long-term in the U.S.
Moving forward with a merit-based system, we could see a significant slowdown in economic growth in the U.S., as labor shortages are being reported from all around the country in industries with varying skill levels. And considering that nearly half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first- or second-generation American immigrants, the potential for entrepreneurship and innovation will suffer.
Just as a border wall won’t stop undocumented immigrants from coming to the U.S., rolling back legal immigration will not boost the economy. Only a sharp focus on comprehensive immigration reform can help on all fronts.