The Trump administration hailed Canada and Australia as models when the president endorsed legislation to curb legal immigration by instituting a points-based system that rewards high-skilled English speakers.
But copying those countries won’t work, according to a new paper from the National Immigration Forum and the National Foundation for American Policy.
There are vast differences between their immigration systems and what Trump is advocating.
“The point of the point system in those countries is to attract more immigration, not reduce it,” said Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy who authored the paper.
Australia designed its point system to supplement employer-sponsored immigrants by giving those without job offers the chance to obtain permanent residence. Immigrants get points for age, language ability and education. Canada used the point system to attract immigrants without a previous connection to the country.
Both countries also admit two to three times as many immigrants each year as the U.S., relative to the size of their populations. Even for temporary workers, Australia has admitted roughly the same number of high-skilled visa holders as the U.S. despite having only 10 percent of the U.S. population.
Trump, however, wants to cut legal immigration in half over the course of a decade by eliminating many family immigration categories as well as the current employment-based categories.
Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) have argued that their bill, the RAISE Act, would prioritize “skilled” immigrants. But the legislation would not increase the number of skilled immigrants to the U.S. Instead, it would transfer the 140,000 immigrant visas used annually by employers to people who accumulate the most points.
In Australia and Canada, employers continue to sponsor foreign workers outside of the point system. The point system is not the only way to obtain permanent residency, and both countries admit immigrants on family reunification and humanitarian grounds.
That does not mean that the point system operates without problems. In Canada, employers often criticize the point system for not meeting their needs when it comes to finding low-skilled workers such as in the meatpacking and hospitality industries.
Tightened rules in recent years have also made it more difficult for corporate executives, neurosurgeons and workers transferring within the same company to chalk up enough points to warrant “express entry” because those jobs did not require a labor market impact assessment.
But fixes can happen within months when problems arise because the Canadian government has unilateral authority to make changes to immigration policy.
It would be near impossible for the United States to implement an effective point system as envisioned by Trump given how the U.S. government is structured, with a separation of authority between the legislative and executive branches, Anderson concluded.
Members of Congress pass laws, and federal agencies implement those laws. Even then, it can take years for the federal government to issue new regulations, which can be subject to litigation.
Peter Rekai, an immigration attorney in Toronto, said Canada’s point system helped usher in the “era of the designer immigrant,” with the government trying to match different immigrant skills to the country’s needs.
But the system has not worked as well as it should have, he said, because “it’s difficult to sit down with a piece of paper and design the perfect immigrant who is going to ‘hit the ground running.’"