NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Immigration Formula Proposed

May 25, 2000

The U.S. has a number of visa categories which allow foreigners to work here temporarily.

There is the H1-B program which permits foreigners with at least a college degree to enter for a renewable three-year term if a prospective employer petitions on their behalf. Then there categories covering intracompany transfers, individuals with extraordinary ability, registered nurses and nonprofit religious organizations. The NAFTA TN visa offers an unlimited number of temporary visas to professional workers from Canada and soon Mexico.

But in his new book, "Heaven's Door," Harvard University economist George Borjas proposes that the U.S. adopt a Canadian-style point system.

  • Under that arrangement, applicants for visas are assigned points on the basis of characteristics such as their ability to speak English, work-force skills, family ties, refugee status and ethnic diversity.
  • Those whose total points exceed a certain threshold would be admitted.
  • Going even further, Borjas favors setting the threshold so that the number of immigrants entering the U.S. falls from about 900,000 to 500,000 a year.
  • He suggests the reduction because his evidence indicates that the skills of legal and illegal immigrants have slipped relative to those of natives since the 1970s.

In fact, one-third of employed male immigrants are high school dropouts. Meanwhile the labor force increasingly demands more high-skilled workers.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University), "Economic Scene: Work Visas Are Allowing Washington to Sidestep Immigration Reform," New York Times, May 25, 2000.


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