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How would merit-based immigration work?

President Donald Trump recently suggested a switch from the well-known diversity visa lottery program and the current family-based scheme to a "merit-based" system. Potential immigrants and those without in-depth knowledge of our immigration laws aren't sure what this entails.

So, what would merit-based immigration look like?

The basics of merit-based immigration

Canada and Australia already primarily use a modified merit-based immigration system that awards applicants a number of points based on the skills or attributes they bring to the proverbial table. Such factors include:

  • Education
  • Special skills (in medicine, research, trades, technology, education, or the arts, for example)
  • Language proficiency (those speaking English could receive priority under an American merit-based system)
  • Age

The Bipartisan Policy Center reports that, in 2015, America's current immigration scheme granted residency to 65 percent of applicants seeking a family-based visa (immediate relative immigrant visas, family-based preference visas, fiancé visas and more). This is compared to 14 percent of those who applied on the basis of skills or employment.

Essentially, merit-based immigration weighs applicants on potential contributions to America's economy and society. Business owners wishing to bring companies - and jobs - to our country would receive preferential treatment under a merit system. Skilled workers, including those in the STEM fields, primarily in technology jobs and in the medical field (either as physicians or as researchers) are also preferred under a merit-based scheme.

Criticisms of merit-based immigration focus on the potential disadvantages to lower-income yet still deserving immigrants. Those in the retail and service industries, for example, are still an important part of our country's economy, but they would not enjoy priority under this type of system.

For now, our current system remains unchanged, as it would take Congressional action - not merely the declared wishes of the President - to reform things. If you or someone you love wants to emigrate to America, reach out to a skilled immigration law attorney who can help you determine the best visa to pursue, and guide you through the process.

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