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New Report Explores “Points-Based” Immigration Systems in Canada, Australia

Washington, DC – A new paper released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center explores how Canada and Australia transitioned to points-based systems, how their systems have evolved over decades, and what lessons the United States could take as it considers reforms to its legal immigration system.

Proponents here in the United States of what is often erroneously called “merit-based immigration” point to these countries as examples of the kind of legal immigration system they favor, in contrast with the United States’ long history of family-based immigration. However, the success of these systems owes to more than their structure of granting points for specific qualities.

“The effective selection of migrants and management of migration revolves around institutions that allow governments to make dramatic changes to their migration programs with public support based on actionable data,” conclude the report’s authors, Cristobal Ramón and Angelina Downs.

The paper features excerpts from interviews the authors conducted with academic experts and former government officials in both Canada and Australia to understand how immigration in those countries has changed in the last 50 years and the unique political and economic circumstances that made adoption of these systems possible. Canada first adopted its points-based system in 1967 and Australia followed suit in 1979.

The authors also explore key questions U.S. policymakers must answer as they consider whether a points-based system could be adopted here, including how to define the goals of a reformed legal immigration system and build public support for the changes.

The paper will be publicly available at 5 p.m. ET today and discussed at an event from 5-6:30 p.m. ET today featuring academic experts from the University of British Columbia and the University of Melbourne, along with BPC Fellow Ruth Wasem, a professor of policy practice at the University of Texas-Austin.