Comparing Trump’s Immigration Bill To The Canadian Merit-Based Model

In February, Senators Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Perdue (R-Georgia) introduced a bill that would have drastically lowered the amount of legal immigrants coming into the U.S.  from some one million per year to just 540,000. The bill floundered, but was resurrected recently with the support of President Trump.  It is still quite unlikely to pass through the Senate as long as the Democrats hold the possibility of a filibuster.  However, as it is backed by the President, it is a good place to start when discussing just what type of immigration reform might eventually emerge.

One of the ways that the president and the drafters of the bill attempt to justify the RAISE act is by stating that, in part, it takes inspiration from the Canadian  points-based immigration system.  While the specific points awarded for categories may change, like in Canada, the proposed American bill also gives points for language proficiency, education (weighted towards domestic institutions), job offers, wages offered and age.  In the U.S. this category of immigration would stay fixed at 140,000 green cards a year.

An interesting wrinkle in the bill is the inclusion $1,350,000 and $1,800,000 investments under the point category system.  In Canada and up to now in the U.S., investment based permanent residence permits have been considered separate from skilled worker immigration.  The proposed addition of investment to this point system may signal the way in which the administration intends to change the EB-5 visa.

The family immigration category is where the majority of the decline in U.S. immigration would come from.  Currently, there is a cap of 480,000 immediate family members coming in under the family sponsored immigration system.  The RAISE act would lower this to 88,000.  By comparison, Canada allowed 65,490 family immigrants in 2015.  The U.S. has around ten times as many people as Canada, so in proportion to its population, the U.S. would let in only a tenth of the family members each year that Canada does.

Other changes made to the family category include the elimination of parents from the list of immediate family members eligible for a green card.  The main reason this is done is to eliminate what is known as chain migration, where children bring in parents who bring in siblings, and so on, in favor of restricting immigration to just nuclear families.  For a long time Canada has had comparable numbers to the U.S., in proportion to its population size, in bringing in parents.  Thus for example, in 2015, Canadian citizens sponsored 15,489 parents and grandparents to come to Canada as permanent residents while the U.S. in the same year let in 132,961 parents of citizens (roughly 1 to 10 population wise).  While the U.S. now proposes to eliminate this category, Canada is proposing to double it. An important note to make – while the parents and grandparents receive permanent resident status in Canada, sponsors remain responsible for paying for expenses that might otherwise be covered by government social welfare for a period of 20 years.

The other thing the RAISE act proposes is a non-immigrant visa for parents of citizens.  This is in line with a Canadian non-immigrant visa that exists for this very same purpose.  The U.S. visa would be for 5 years, while the Canadian visa is for 10 years.  Both make explicit mentions of illegibility for federal, state/provincial, and local benefits, and that the sponsor must pay for the upkeep of the parent.  But the Canadian system goes further in providing concrete income cut-offs, below which a sponsor is ineligible to apply.  Neither the Canadian visa nor the proposed U.S. visa have any quota attached to them.

The RAISE act proposes changes to the definition of what counts as a minor child, from under 21 years of age to under 18.  The intent here is clear, to have children spend at least some of their formative school age years in the U.S.  Canada has recently moved in the opposite direction.  Effective October 24, 2017, the new age limit for Canada will be under 22 years of age, as opposed to the earlier under 19 years of age limit.  This was done with the intent of making it easier for whole families to immigrate.

The way in which the bill brings the U.S. immigration system closest to Canada is by eliminating the diversity green card lottery.  The diversity lottery grants 50,000 green cards annually to foreigners that otherwise might never qualify in any way to immigrate to the U.S.  It was originally introduced to offset the influx of immigrants from certain immigrant-heavy feeding countries such as China, India and the Philippines, with green cards for citizens of countries whose nationals are otherwise underrepresented in the annual total of immigrants to the United States.  With the diversity lottery, the U.S. has actually been far more generous than Canada. Canada has never had a program like the diversity green card.

The RAISE act also proposes to limit the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 50,000 in any given year, cutting it by nearly one third. Canada accepts 20,000-25,000 every year. While many have praised Canada’s refugee policies, even it has critics, although those critics seem to echo the same concerns that dominate the U.S. debate on refugees.  These concerns circle around questions of security and vetting.

On the whole, the proposed changes do make the system quite a bit closer to the Canadian example.  The differences are in the proportion of immigrants being brought into the general population and that Canada seems to be moving more towards the American example of generosity when it comes to family reunification.  How much of these proposed changes will stay in the next iteration of an immigration bill, should this one fail to pass in the Senate, remains to be seen.

This article is reprinted from an article formerly published in the Forbes. 

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