What A 'Merit-Based' Immigration System Would Mean President Trump talked about the advantages of merit-based immigration like in Canada. Scott Simon talks with Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors less immigration.

What A 'Merit-Based' Immigration System Would Mean

What A 'Merit-Based' Immigration System Would Mean

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/518461949/518461950" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President Trump talked about the advantages of merit-based immigration like in Canada. Scott Simon talks with Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors less immigration.


In this week's speech before Congress, President Trump said that immigration to the United States ought to be merit based. He cited Canada and Australia as examples, and they give preference to immigrants based on their education, employment history and financial means. But would that work against keeping families together or admitting lower skilled workers for the farm and food industry? We're joined now by Jessica Vaughan. She's director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. Thanks so much for being with us.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Glad to be with you.

SIMON: And why do you favor merit-based admittance?

VAUGHAN: Well, there's no question that our current immigration system is out of whack with our national interest. The National Academy of Sciences recently found that our current system is a fiscal drain for taxpayers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars every year and also displaces Americans who have less schooling from the job market. So - meanwhile, immigrants who do have education and skills and who are sponsored by employers are not a fiscal drain in the same way. So you know, when you look at our system, we're getting - two-thirds of our legal immigrants are coming because they were sponsored by family members and only 15 percent who are sponsored by employers. It's clear that if we were to change that mix by reducing the number of family-based immigrants, as has been proposed in recent legislation and - possibly that gives us the opportunity to increase the number of skill-based visas within the overall limits that we have now. That would be much more helpful.

SIMON: In the interest of time, let me follow up with a couple of points in which you raised. Firstly, of course as you know, there are other studies that show the economic strength that immigrants provide the United States. And the other I'd ask - isn't it only humane - isn't it one of the features that makes America great to let families be united? Don't we have an investment in that, too?

VAUGHAN: Well, we do have a very large family-based immigration program. Certainly, nobody is proposing that we, you know, not let people sponsor their spouses. But that's a lot of people. What we're talking about is perhaps getting rid of categories like the one for siblings of U.S. citizens, which is a more extended family reunification program. Not many other countries have that, and that's the one that's most backed up now.

SIMON: But that's not...

VAUGHAN: We also have a visa lottery which...

SIMON: That's not one of the features that makes America what it is?

VAUGHAN: You know, when you look at the numbers, what the National Academy of Science has found is that there are too many immigrants that we're admitting who are not self-sufficient. And we don't strongly enforce the part of the law that says you need to be to be an immigrant. So there are a number of ways where we could make our immigration policy less of a fiscal drain and serve our national interest better. And I think by cutting the numbers and rebalancing it so more come in because of their skills, that would be something that would strengthen our immigration program and people would be more supportive of it.

SIMON: I - you've made that point. Let me get to one last question, if I could. President Trump cited Canada as a model of merit-based system, but several news organizations and the Canadian Council of disabilities have pointed out that Stephen Hawking wouldn't be permitted to immigrate in Canada under their system because it does not admit handicapped and disabled people. Do you want that for the United States too?

VAUGHAN: Well, a merit-based system needs to focus on education and skills, but there is also room for immediate family members to come as well. Canada's point system really contributes only about 15 percent of Canada's annual immigration now. It used to be much higher. It's all in, you know, how you set it up. And we need to be more nimble in our immigration system and look at the outcomes of our immigration policy the way Australia does and be ready to change it if it's not meeting our needs, particularly our economic needs.

SIMON: Jessica, we...

VAUGHAN: I think that we can do both.

SIMON: Jessica Vaughn of the Center for Immigration Studies, thanks so much.

VAUGHAN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.