The Senate is beginning its immigration debate with a bill that encapsulates all of President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities.One of those is a shift from an immigration system based largely on family reunification to a policy that would be points-based, sometimes called merit immigration.
Points-based systems are not new. Britain has one, and Germany is starting a pilot immigration program based on points.The two oldest points-based systems are in Canada and Australia.
Here is what those programs look like and how they stack up against the current U.S. system and the one Trump proposes:
Canada, Australia, U.S.
In 1967, Canada became the first nation to establish a points-based system. It allows 100 possible points for education, work experience, job offer, age of applicant and family adaptability. In the Canadian system, applicants can get the greatest number of points, 28, for language proficiency in English and French.
WATCH: Points-Based Immigration: How It Compares
To qualify as one of Canada’s skilled immigrants, an applicant must accrue 67 points and pass a medical exam.
In 2017, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada planned for more than half of its total immigrants to come through its workers’ program (172,500) and a smaller number (84,000) to be admitted as family members.
Australia’s points system was instituted in 1989 as a departure from the country’s previous racial- and ethnic-based policy.
To gain entry, applicants must accrue 60 points for such attributes as English proficiency, skilled employment, educational background and ties to Australia. Australia awards the greatest number of points (30) to people of prime working age. Applicants must also pass a medical exam and character test.
In 2016-17, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported that “123,567 places were delivered in the skill stream; 56,220 places were delivered in the family stream.”
In contrast, the United States has had a system based on family reunification since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. There are 480,000 family visas allotted every year, while work visas are set at 140,000.
Supporters of Trump’s plan argue the family-based approach brings in low-skilled workers compared with a point system. His proposal and one in the Senate would reward points based on high-salary job offers, past achievements, English language ability and education. The plans would also cut legal immigration by about 50 percent.
Critics say a points system would cost more; the government would have to review the applications and pay resettlement costs that are currently covered by sponsoring families.
In 2016, the United States admitted almost 1.2 million immigrants.The top five countries they came from were Mexico, China, Cuba, India and the Dominican Republic.
That same year, Canada took in about 296,000 immigrants. The top five countries of origin were the Philippines, India, Syria, China and Pakistan.
In 2016-17, Australia admitted 184,000 immigrants. India, China, Britain, the Philippines and Pakistan were the leading countries of origin.
The Australian Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in November 2016, “The unemployment rate for recent migrants and temporary residents was 7.4 percent, compared with 5.4 percent for people born in Australia. Migrants with Australian citizenship had an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, temporary residents 8.6 percent and recent migrants on a permanent visa 8.8 percent.”
Statistics Canada reported an overall unemployment rate of 5.4 percent in 2017. For immigrants who had just landed it was 6.4 percent, and for those in the country for five years or less, it was 9.6 percent. For those in the country more than 10 years, the unemployment rate approached the national average at 5.6 percent.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2016, the unemployment rate for the foreign-born population, both new and longtime residents, was 4.3 percent, which was lower than the 4.9 percent rate for the population in general.