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Understanding Trump’s Proposed “merit-based” Immigration System

Political forecasters are predicting that, if immigration reform were to take place in any formalized capacity during the Trump administration, there would be an extreme ideological shift in the way the immigration system functions.  Historically, for the last half century, the primary basis of entry was for familial unification/re-unification, where preference was given to those individuals with relatives who are U.S. citizens.  The merit-based system proposed by Trump and certain members of the GOP would essentially upend the family-preference approach in favor of a system that focuses instead on prioritizing highly-skilled immigrants.

Restrictionists believe that this approach will serve the dual purpose of lowering immigration rates and that the highly skilled workers will not drain public assistance programs.  Critics of the merit-based program and pro-immigrant advocates alike stress the fact that an approach that prioritizes highly educated and highly-skilled workers could actually have a paradoxical effect. In particular, they suggest that this system could hurt the U.S. economy by harming businesses reliant on low-skill immigration labor.  In this model that deliberately excludes immigrants working in agricultural industries, labor costs would rise, which may boost worker wages but would adversely impact employers and increase prices for consumers.

Critics of the merit-based system also highlight concerns about the morality of an elitist approach that only allows entry to a group of already advantaged individuals and one which places a value judgment on type of work, with a message that some workers are more important or of higher value than others.  Immigration Attorney Edward Shulman, Esq. said in an interview in front of the Elmwood Park, New Jersey library on Friday: “To me, there should be no difference in value or merit between an agricultural worker picking oranges in the fields and an information technology expert working in a cubicle.  Both workers are necessary to the fabric of our economy and in my office, they are treated with equal respect.”