Friday, August 4, 2017


By now you've no doubt heard of the RAISE Act (Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act) that has been introduced into the Senate by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue and endorsed by President Trump. Predictably media liberals are attacking it and Trump's supporters are delighted with it, but what would the act actually do? What are it's strong and weak points and how can the weaknesses be strengthened?

Immigration expert Lyman Stone has a fine piece at The Federalist that summarizes the act and answers those questions. Here's the summary:
First, the RAISE ACT would eliminate “Diversity Lottery Visas,” a program that gives 50,000 visas to countries that send few immigrants to the United States in the name of, well, diversity.

Second, it would limit the number of refugees given permanent residency to 50,000 per year.

Third, it would eliminate the ability of immigrants to sponsor visas for extended family members and adult children.

Fourth, it would restructure the employment-visa system into a points system akin to those used by Canada or Australia, prioritizing young-ish immigrants with good English, high-paying job offers, and other markers of achievement.
Stone goes on to explain a bit about each of these. The points system in particular would look like this:
[E]ach person applying for immigration authorization is awarded points based on various characteristics on a 0 to 100 basis. If you get fewer than 30 points, you are ineligible for immigration.

Practically speaking, nobody except Olympic athletes, wealthy investors, or Nobel Prize winners gets a score over 45 points. For most immigrants, points come from age (26-31 is the sweet spot, earning 10 points, while over-50s get zero points, with various gradations in between), education (a bachelor’s degree earns you 5 or 6, a STEM masters 7 or 8, a STEM PhD 10 or 13), English-language skills (the top 10 percent of test-takers using a standardized test get 12 points), and salary offered (5-13 points depending on how far the wage is above median wages).

Many countries use points systems because these are easy to understand for voters, bureaucrats, and immigrants. Voters feel like they understand how they’re being governed, bureaucrats don’t have to make as many subjective choices, and immigrants have clear goals and benchmarks. The United Kingdom adopted such a system in 2008. Australia’s system is widely seen as a model for such systems. You can easily look up Canada’s scoring system online.
Like any legislation RAISE probably needs to be tweaked. Stone discusses some pros and cons:
A focus on skills is long overdue. Even as low-skilled workers in the United States may face competition from cheaper immigrant labor, high-skilled employers continue to complain that they can’t find enough workers. Shifting away from kinship-based visas that encourage immigrants to bring over lower-skilled relatives towards a system that zeroes in on skilled workers would simultaneously reduce the pressure on working-class wages while making it easier for advanced companies to hire the best and brightest from around the world.

Indeed, it actually makes it harder for companies to poach talent from abroad by creating additional barriers, such as English fluency or certain age brackets, that were not previously necessary. Say you’re an advanced polymer manufacturing company in Ohio and you want to hire an engineer. Your new hire has a PhD in polymers from a U.S. university (13 points) and you’re offering him 40 percent of median wages (13 points). But he’s 53 (zero points) and his English is only about average for foreigners (zero points). At 26 points, this candidate is totally ineligible for a visa despite obviously being good for the country.At least, that’s what should happen.

But the RAISE Act designers made a crucial drafting error. They slashed family visas, implemented a points-based system… then left the number of employment visas unchanged at 140,000. This is nonsensical. Sure, the RAISE Act relieves some pressure on low-skilled workers, which is good, but it does absolutely nothing to make the United States more globally competitive.
The problems, Stone maintains, are easy to remedy, and he suggests some fixes in his article to which I refer you for many more details than I've mentioned here.

It's hard to see why this bill, with appropriate modifications, should not be passed into law, although some will oppose it simply because it's a Republican proposal endorsed by Trump. The "Resist" folks notwithstanding, though, it's a system that makes a lot of sense, has been adopted by other first world nations, and one that we should adopt as well.