The new immigration bill currently being hammered out by Congress has a point system to determine which potential immigrants get visas. The system awards points, which increase an applicant's chances of being let into the country, for being English proficient, having a college or graduate degree, and having a job in science, technology, or health. The plan drastically rewrites immigration policy in the United States, and if left in its current form, will fundamentally change the makeup of the country.
The first consequence of the point system is that the primary criteria for being offered a visa changes from family to profession, awarding points not for being related to a current resident of the U.S. but for having a highly skilled job. Individuals trying to bring their adult children, siblings, or parents to America will have a much harder time (spouses and minor children will still be allowed in without being subject to the point system), while engineers and scientists trying to be the first from their family to come to the States will have a much easier time. Dems are saying this breaks up families and contains an inherent class bias. Says Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, "The point system would have prevented my own parents, a carpenter and a seamstress, from coming to this country." (Note: If anti-immigration forces currently claim immigrants steal low-wage jobs from Americans, how long under the new plan until they start crying about the plight of the replaced American doctor of physicist?)
The second ramification is the corruption of the free market. Previously, companies decided what sort of employees they needed, found them from abroad or in American universities, and sponsored them for work visas, creating a perfect match between skills and available work. But the point system makes this sorting and decision-making the responsibility of the federal government. Naturally, big business hates the idea. Democrat Zoe Lofgren represents Silicon Valley, where, she says, no one is in favor. "The government is saying, in effect, 'We have a five-year plan for the economy, and we will decide with this point system what mix of skills is needed,'" she told the New York Times. "That is not the way a market-based capitalist economy works best."
The third problem is that the bill locks in the criteria for the point system for 14 years. The economy may not need engineers, mathematicians, and doctors in 14 years -- it might need unskilled labor or skilled labor of an entirely different kind.
Another effect -- and this one is neither good nor bad, I think -- is the changing racial demographics of the United States. The point system will reward characteristics already found in immigrants from Asia -- in the last 15 years, over 75 percent of immigrants from India, and over 50 percent of those from China, have had some form of college degree. And the English proficiency of immigrants from across Asia is usually high.
Indians in particular will do quite well under the point system, and immigrants from South America, Central America, and Mexico will do quite poorly. Currently over 40 percent of Indian immigrants are in science, technology, engineering, or health. That compares to less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Over 40 percent of Indian immigrants come with a master's degree or higher. That compares with less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Almost 70 percent of Indian immigrants come speaking English fluently or "very well." That compares to 20 percent of Mexican immigrants.
So in addition to looking at the immigration plan's plethora of other problems, senators need to take a long hard look at the point system. It has some problems, but more than that, it will have a tremendous impact on the composition of our country -- is that something they want to engineer? -- and deserves the utmost care.