Our Editorial: Basing entry on merit is smart policy
The Senate’s attempt to bring some rationality to the nation’s legal immigration process gets an important piece right. Preference should be given to entrants with skills needed by American employers, and to those with the resources to support themselves once they arrive here.
But slashing legal immigration in half, as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE) would do, would damage the national economy and create worker shortages in a wide array of industries. Specifically, agricultural and tourism could be devastated if this bill passes in its current form.
The Senate should rework the bill to keep the principle of a merit-based system, but without cutting off other green card applicants who fill gaps throughout the workforce.
RAISE, supported by President Donald Trump, would screen immigrants for their education and skill levels, financial resources and ability to speak English. It’s a common sense approach to selecting those foreigners who will be allowed to live and work here.
American employers are desperate for high-skilled workers, particularly in the technical and medical fields. There are also shortages of skilled construction industry workers, such as carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers and electricians.
The current approach to issuing green cards is willy-nilly, and for all practical purposes is a lottery system. Little consideration is given to whether the immigrants will be able to find jobs and sustain themselves without government assistance.
Once in, green card holders can bring in members of their extended families, who can in turn bring in other relatives in an almost endless chain of immigration.
Meanwhile, the United States is sending away foreign students who have studied and graduated from its universities because it has exhausted its green card quota.
RAISE would make it easier to keep those foreign graduates, and to admit others with desirable skills. It would also allow immigrants to bring with them only their spouses and children.
The language requirement has been attacked as racist and xenophobic. And while it is gratuitous, the reality is that education systems throughout the world require English proficiency of their students. Education First reports more than half the global adult population speaks English, and proficiency is moderate or better in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Still, skilled immigrants who land jobs in the United States should have no trouble learning English once they get here, and would have an incentive to do so. The language requirement should be scuttled.
The sponsors contend their bill will help American workers at the bottom end of the employment scale who face competition from unskilled immigrants willing to work for lower pay. It is true the greatest unemployment is among those with the fewest skills. But there is a solid body of evidence that immigrants don’t steal jobs away from Americans, but rather fill positions that they won’t take.
Several Republican senators have expressed concern about the impact on their states if immigrant labor becomes scarce.
The Senate can pass a bill that gives preference to highly skilled immigrants, but also lets in the laborers industry needs.
Overall, RAISE takes an important step in establishing a green card policy that serves the national interest. If skilled and resourceful workers want to come here to contribute, we should take all of them we can get.