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Examining Merit-Based Immigration and How it Might Work in the U.S.

Bipartisan Policy Center
1225 Eye St NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20005
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Over the last year, the Trump administration has proposed changing the U.S. immigration system from a predominately family-based immigration program to a merit-based immigration program, citing Canada and Australia’s points-based system as models. The administration claims that adopting this system will admit more high-skilled workers to the United States who will contribute to the economy. However, the debate over merit-based immigration in the United States has failed to explain how proposed merit-based legislation such as the RAISE Act is similar to Canadian and Australian systems’ scope and goals. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the United States can adopt the Canadian and Australian systems, given differences in the governance of immigration among the three countries.

On February 5, 2018, the Bipartisan Policy Center gathered a panel of three experts from Australia, Canada, and the United States to bring clarity to these issues. Those experts were Michael Willard, Assistant Secretary of the Immigration and Citizenship Policy Division at the Government of Australia; André Valotaire, the Minister Counsellor for Immigration at the Embassy of Canada; and Daniel Griswold, a Senior Research Fellow and Co-Director of the Program on the American Economy and Globalization at the Mercatus Center.

During the event, the Australian and Canadian experts provided an overview of their systems. Mr. Willard, who works on Australia’s skilled immigration and temporary visa program, discussed the foundation of the Australian immigration system. As he noted,

Mr. Valotaire, who is responsible for the Canadian embassy’s migration portfolio, also explained the major components of the Canadian immigration system. As he noted,

Mr. Valotarie and Mr. Willard also discussed how their countries use different methods to assess the efficacy of their immigration systems.

During his remarks, Mr. Griswold compared the employment, family reunification and humanitarian components of the three systems. As he noted,

He also noted that the United States could incorporate two components of the Australian and Canadian systems into its own.

In short, the Australian and Canadian systems provide the United States with potential avenues for developing a true merit-based system that harnesses the power of immigrants to strengthen the American economy.


Daniel Griswold
Senior Research Fellow, The Mercatus Center
Co-Director, Program on the American Economy and Globalization

Michael Willard
Assistant Secretary of the Immigration and Citizenship Policy Division at the Government of Australia

André Valotaire
Minister Counsellor, Immigration, Embassy of Canada

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