Point System-Based Immigration Policy?

Reportedly the incoming Trump administration is considering a points system to replace current policy on (legal) immigration. Canada and Australia, among others, have policies along these lines.

The basic idea is to bias policy in favor of immigrants who will be most beneficial to the U.S. Seems plausible. What’s not to like? As the son of a skill-less immigrant who barely finished high school, I do continue to hold the romantic notion of the U.S. being a mecca for “your tired, your poor” and so on, and I have always advocated having a policy that consists of a mixture of socioeconomic classes. But this might be impractical today, and in any case, my interest in writing this post concerns how Silicon Valley, and another interest group to be explained later in this post, might view a points system.

The Trump people seem to think that the tech industry would love the plan, which presumably would bring in lots of engineers and scientists. But I’m pretty sure the industry would oppose the idea outright. I say that because they have done so before, when the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill was brought before Congress in 2007.

Again, what’s not to like, in this case from the point of view of the tech industry? They want highly-skilled immigrants, right? The problem is that Google and Facebook don’t want skilled software engineers; they want YOUNG software engineers. They don’t want the 35-year-old software developer from Georgia, whether he be from Atlanta or Tbilisi. Most of the foreign workers hired by Google and Facebook are young new graduates.

But…if only points could be awarded for being a young new graduate, the industry might be interested. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what Canada is doing.

In other words, Staple a Green Card, the type of program I have argued vigorously against. It would exacerbate the age problem, reduce wages and job opportunities, increase displacement of Americans by foreign workers (albeit ones who become Americans), and above all, bring down the level of insight and innovation of our technical workforce.

There is another interesting pressure group here. Currently a major part of immigration policy is family-based immigration, part of which is known as Fourth Preference. This is the portion of the statute that allows U.S. citizens (typically naturalized ones) to petition for their adult siblings for a green card. This and other aspects form the core driver of what is called chain migration: John immigrates to the U.S., later naturalizes and then petitions for his sister Mary to immigrate. She brings her husband James, who later petitions for his brother Jared and so on.

There has been heavy criticism of chain migration over the years, and people of various immigration-ideological stripes have proposed eliminating the Fourth Preference. But such efforts have been repeatedly thwarted by heavy lobbying by Chinese-American activist groups, who know that the growth in their numbers has come largely from the Fourth Preference. Would they oppose if a point system were proposed today? Possibly not. I’ve heard that at least one of the Chinese groups thinks that the best way to increase the numbers of Chinese immigrants is through H-1B and the like. A solid majority of H-1Bs is Indian, but the second-largest nationality is Chinese

As the vendors at baseball games used to say, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard!” Identifying the players — and their “positions” — in the immigration game is getting more and more difficult.





23 thoughts on “Point System-Based Immigration Policy?

  1. Many of our immigrant ancestors who came to the US before WW2 would not be admitted to the US today because they were poorly educated and unskilled and were the first of their family to come to the US. It is just individuals like these ancestors who along with their descendants have made this country what it is today. It is my belief that unless there is a way for individuals with this background to legally enter the US that illegal immigration will remain a problem. The visa program – other than asylum and refugee – with entrants most like our ancestors is the Diversity Visa Lottery. Even this has education or skills requirements that many from the Third World do not have.


    I believe that the family reunification visas – with the exception of spouses and children born of the couple – should be abolished. (Note that my sibling’s spouse has applied for a sibling visa for her sibling’s family. I am still opposed to that means of immigration as a matter of principle.) A lottery open to all adults no matter their education or skills level could apply for him/her-self; if chosen, that individual plus spouse and minor children living with the couple could then legally immigrate. Some of these individuals would be highly skilled and educated, many would be like typical native born citizens, but a large number are likely to be illiterate but capable of the work our immigrant ancestors performed.


    • The 1995 WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services committed the US and other signatory nations to gradually phase out non-conforming services unless they are “services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority”;

      which is defined as only that service “which is supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers.”

      Since education is supplied in competition with other service suppliers for money, its subject to GATS privatization rules and that means many people wont be able to afford it once its fully privatized. Subsidies are only allowed to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs and only for a limited time.

      They really have few choices, none of them good ones. Otherwise they would be undercutting commercial education brands with low cost competitors, like was done in the past.

      Similarly to the situation with health care. Any solutions to this problem have to be the least trade restrictive possible. lets look at a best case scanario and colleges open up throughout the world in low wage countries to handle the American students whose families income allows one family member to get an education, so that they can support the rest. That will still take ten or fifteen years to really bear fruit.

      Granted,, allowing foreign professionals to move here to replace our own isnt the most benevolent solution but they see a crisis looming because of large scale failures on the part of Americans to keep up with the Jones in other countries on education. Plus all those student loans have priced recent grads out of the market.. You can’t just snap your fingers and reverse the situation. My guess is this is an insurance policy in case India’s pending WTO challenge of our visa quotas, and proposals for a new Trade Facilitation Agreement on Services (TFS) to force us to allow trade in services at whatever levels would occur naturally, without regulation, (Could be as many as several tens of millions) Suppose they both fail, and the push to allow unfettered Cross Border Data Flows fails, due to pressure similarly to TPP. that means they have to fall back on the 1995 GATS promises.

      All this should be sending a message. They are really determined to lower wages and open the borders to high skill low wage high profit workers, no matter what the cost to our indigenous workforce and families.

      Therefore they weren’t about to leave this up to the voters, how could they, they had already promised these changes in GATS 20 years ago, and have been under growing pressure . Additionally, we have promised to get rid of protectionism by the next G20 meeting. So its a done deal.


      • Interesting comments. However, I would point out that education cannot be seen as a simple commodity. For most employers and most jobs, a college degree is valued more because of its use as a filter, rather than on specific knowledge and skills gained. (Even the curricula in technical majors are arguably 80% not generally valued.)


      • Do you not believe that supposed failures in education as a whole can be related to the large number of English language learners who are illiterate in their native languages and changing demographics? The overall measured educational achievement level is affected to both the ELL’s deficiencies and the problems they create when placed in an age appropriate classroom. Add to the ELLs the children from single or no parent families living in crime prone neighborhoods where daily survival is a priority. The students who are typical of those from the 50s and 60s are an ever decreasing number. While there are success stories about the students from disadvantaged backgrounds, they are far too few.

        I believe the children typical of the 50s and 60s and even 70s are as well if not better educated than their parents and grandparents due to their access to technology and parental and extended family involvement in their lives. “Helicopter parents” and overindulgent grandparents are not all bad.

        In the ten years between when my eldest started high school and my youngest graduated, there was a dramatic difference in achievement levels and expectations. In the 20 years since then, the school has gone from declining to a gang infested disaster. I feel sorry for the children trying to get a good education there now. Our neighborhood elementary and middle schools get the state grade of F and the high school is a C – probably because the most academically deficient students have dropped out.


      • Student loans are nothing more than kids partying on future income.

        Case in point: my 23 yr old son started working at Safeway as a bagger at age 14. Nine years later, he has dual BA degrees in Comp Sci & Business from AZ State. He paid 100% of ALL costs, and has zero debt. Same employer through high school and university.

        By the time he graduated, he was making $22k/yr working part time. Less than a year later, he now makes $146k/yr for a global company, managing a team of developers for autonomous vehicles. He started out as a dev, but quickly moved into management due to his real world working experience.

        I have no doubt he’ll be cracking $500k/yr within two years.

        Funny how hard work pays.

        Why in hell do people feel kids should go through school on loans? I didn’t at Mich State nor MIT. I paid for it, not Mom & Dad.

        I could have cut one check and paid for our son’s school, but I’m not a loser Boomer who feels kids shouldn’t have responsibility.


  2. meanwhile, NOBODY with the exception of you, patrick, sara, and a few others whose names escape me at the moment discuss those forced out of the workforce AND NOBODY does anything to help them get back to work in any way, shape, or form


  3. I read Trump’s comments and I’m not sure he is proposing to emulate Canada’s system. His comments might be interpreted as calling tech companies’ bluff. If they claim they need to set up development centers in Canada to access developers, Trump may want to ask questions about that. It might be a line of questioning the execs are not accustomed to.

    We should not forget that most tech companies were so possessed of brilliant insight that they were convinced Trump would lose. If they can’t work out what’s happening in society, maybe they’re not so smart in hiring.

    Regarding the points systems in Canada and Australia, you are correct. They award extra points for being young, on a sliding scale, and for having completed university courses in each country. Neither country has developed a tech industry with the clout and innovation of the US, even on a per capita basis.


    • Right, the tech people were sure Trump would lose. Echo chamber in action. I read a quote today of an MIT professor who said, “I don’t know anyone who isn’t horrified” about Trump’s presidency. Recall my posting about UC Berkeley professor (and Clinton’s first Sec. of Labor) Robert Reich writing, “I finally found a Trump supporter.”


      • I was no fan of Trump, for many reasons. But the main I’ve was I didn’t believe he would follow through on his promises.

        I great each day with hope, and do far, he’s delivering.

        No rants against him from me since inaugeration.


  4. Hi Norman,
    I know you don’t defend universities using h1-b. But I thought the following article should be informative in case you haven’t read it already:


    There is a part about a draft proposal allowing companies that get into a written agreement with universities to hire outside the cap.

    I know all of this is old news but it might help us understand all the tricks in the playbook. And some tricks might be reused in the future.


  5. Hi Norman,
    I stumbled upon you blog and it was a quite interesting read. Let me preface by saying I am an Indian on a H1B visa who has been legally in this country for more than 15 years(waiting on a long queue for green card). I write this from an American perspective, even though I have not taken an oath of citizenship, because I already have my roots down here. (PR or not)

    If I understand this, your beef against people immigrating to this country through the university student -> H1B -> green card -> citizenship route is that it increases the pool of young workers and depresses the wages of mid-career/ late-career professionals. Is that right?

    Having been through that experience, I strongly believe it is the best way to integrate into this country both culturally and professionally. Other ways of immigration into US (family based/ diversity based/ mid-career professional move/ etc.) too often is like taking fish out of water.

    I believe the biggest failure in the narrative about H1B is the failure to differentiate between immigrants (like me) and temporary professional workers who want to spend a few years in the US, earn some money and go back.


    • “…increases the pool of young workers and depresses the wages of mid-career/ late-career professionals. Is that right?” NO, it’s not right. H-1B actually EXCLUDES many Americans from the labor market, and greatly reduces job opportunities for many others. Reduced wages is one thing, not being able to work is far worse. You are almost certainly denying someone work, though you are likely unaware of it.

      I know many, many people who came to the U.S. via family immigration. Most are doing just fine, and at least they don’t have the attitude that they are somehow a gift to the American people, as many of the former foreign students do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “EXCLUDES many Americans from the labor market”
        I believe you are under appreciative of the contributions that professional immigrants are making to this country. I have no claims that they are a “gift to American people” or they are the “smartest brains in the world”. But they pay taxes, do not commit crimes and a small fraction of the total number of professionals in this country.

        “You are almost certainly denying someone work, though you are likely unaware of it.”
        I appreciate your passion and anger on this topic but I have to say you know nothing about my specific circumstances. I believe I have saved jobs in the US from getting outsourced by automating some manual operations. But enough with personal attacks.

        I have a certain sympathy to the argument that H1B needs to be reformed and fraud needs to be reduced. However, it is hard to separate the rational arguments from sentimental ones on this topic.


        • H-1Bs, by virtue of being paid less than Americans, pay less in taxes than what those who they displace had been paying. That’s a net loss in tax revenue.

          I don’t regard my statement, “You are almost certainly denying someone work, though you are likely unaware of it,” to be a personal attack. It is simply a statement of fact that I wish to educate you about.

          Your job that automates some manual operations could have been done by an American.

          By the way, my use of the word American means U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It does not mean native, does not mean white etc.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Vivek,

          How would you address the favoritism of recent immigrants/guest workers toward individuals from their home countries in the hiring process? How would you solve the problem of employers having the incentive to hire an OPT worker over a worker for which FICA taxes must be paid?


          • Where does this trope spring from? I was hired on OPT in the late 2000s (and was in that status for a few months until my H-1B was approved.) My employer most definitely paid FICA taxes on my behalf, as my W-2 stubs indicate.

            The only purpose of the OPT is to enable foreign students to be hired straight out of school (mostly grad school), so if you want to oppose that (if you have a zero-sum view of labor), do so on those terms, and not on grounds that can be easily shown to be false.


  6. Chain migration is limited to recent immigrants. The income requirements for sponsorship are ridiculously low and do not take into account the likely living arrangements. It assumes that the new arrivals will be living in the same household as the sponsor and sponsor’s family. In addition, the fact that the sponsor is receiving means tested benefits does not prevent them from taking on the additional financial responsibilities of providing for new arrivals. Add to the basic food and shelter the costs of health insurance makes the 125% of federal poverty level a ridiculously low requirement for sponsorship of a new immigrant.

    On another note, when my son had an apartment in a major west coast city, the lease strictly limited overnight guests. We obtained special permission for a week long visit. I wonder how individuals bringing family members to visit for months at a time are able to do so given occupancy limits in contracts and laws.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s