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Merit based Immigration & Diversity

what is merit based immigration system? Is merit based immigration good for USA? Canada, Australia, UK?

Merit-based immigration is always a good topic for immigration policy makers. People’s movement and migration have never been so widespread in any other time in history as it is today. Even with the pandemic raging, people from all countries move back and forth, across borders. Some move in search of adventure, and for fun. Others, meanwhile, move in search of better opportunities, which, for some reason, are not available, or denied in their homeland.

Immigration is the phenomenon of which people go to other countries, mostly in search of a better future. Whole families move from one country to another, to live and settle there permanently. The practice has been so widespread since the past few decades, countries decided to impose quotas, and apply a system that will examine the quality and qualification of the immigrants.

The most important of these is merit-based immigration, which has been in place in some countries, with the notable exception of U.S.A. So, what is merit-based immigration all about?

What is merit-based immigration?

Merit-based immigration or point-based immigration is a system in which people who want to migrate and become citizens are allowed or disallowed to do so based on how they perform on a particular scoring system. The scoring system is based on criteria such as educational attainment, language proficiency, job offers, wealth, connections, and knowledge of the country.

Immigrants will be judged on whether they met the criteria set in the scoring system. Countries will put a threshold or passing score. Immigrants must be able to meet the necessary threshold based on the accumulated points. Criteria in the system have equivalent points, and scoring above the threshold means they passed the merit-based immigration test.

Not all countries do have a merit-based immigration system. Some, however, do have and are using it largely to determine who can be immigrants in their respective countries.

Which countries are using merit-based immigration?

Countries that are facing a large number of immigrants yearly are usually the ones that implement a merit-based immigration policy. The most prominent of these countries are Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Each of them, though, has a different merit-based immigration policy in place.

Some countries put a premium on education and youth. Some emphasize special attributes that may contribute to the country and society as a whole. Some emphasize the need to have available manpower and expand the population. Others still emphasize language proficiency and customs. Let us look at the policies of the four leading countries with merit-based immigration policy.

Merit-based immigration in Canada

Canada was the first country to institute the policy. In dire need of labour and human capital, the policy was introduced to replace traditional forms of immigration which puts a premium on the country of origin. They hoped that with the new policy there would be an increase of immigrants coming from other nations.

Canada gave higher points based on youth, education, and language proficiency in French and/or English in the early years of the policy. Changes, however, were made since the system was instituted in 1967, with points for language fluency and skilled labor increased heavily throughout the years. This was mainly a response to problems of labor and job security for the immigrants.

Merit-based immigration in Australia

Australia applied the merit-based immigration system to replace one that is based on ethnicity and race. The immigrant’s possible contribution to the country and society became the primary focal point of the policy. The policies were tweaked now and then to suit the country’s needs for manpower and labor.

Merit-based immigration in New Zealand

It was instituted in New Zealand in the late 80s to replace an immigration system that was based primarily on race and ethnicity. In using this system, New Zealand puts greater importance on the skills and talents of those who want to migrate. This was improvised and simplified in 1991, which eventually leads to greater inclusivity of the immigration policy.

Merit-based immigration in the United Kingdom

Only lately did the United Kingdom institute the merit-based immigration policy. Greater importance was placed on those immigrants who can bring capital, money and talent to the country. A point-based system was also applied to assess those who want to be immigrants, owing to studies, work, or sponsorship.

Those citizens of nations not belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) are the only ones subjected to the merit-based immigration policy. Those who belong to the EA are subjected to an entirely different set of immigration policies.

It is important to note that merit-based immigration is only one way of making it to the countries mentioned. Other avenues may be available, like those who are refugees or are seeking political asylum. Merit-based immigration, however, is the normal way those countries process and assess the immigrants.

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Is merit-based immigration good for the U.S.A.?

There is a considerable debate regarding the efficiency of the system. Critics have pointed out that it was not successful in screening immigrants. Job-mismatch and labor-related problems emerge in most countries. This was due to the skills and education of immigrants is not suited to the needs of the country.

In the U.S.A., questions have been raised about whether we need to adopt a merit-based immigration system. Former President Donald Trump has been an admirer of Canada’s policy, and he wants to institute a policy based on merit. Despite his defeat, debate with regards to the possibility of having a merit-based immigration policy continues.

There are problems, however, that are peculiar to the nation that might have relevance to the debate. For one, the country has been relying on immigrant labor, and implementing a policy such as this might affect the labor supply and availability in the country. It might have unforeseen economic consequences especially now that a pandemic is raging.

Questions about “merit” must also be tackled. The merit-based immigration policy of the four countries were reactions to their needs at various times in their history. We must ask the question as to if we truly need something like this, considering our status now as a nation? Do we need a policy that will further restrict the entrance of immigrants from other countries?

That the country needs some kind of policy regarding immigrants, is obvious. But whether we need a merit-based immigration system or some kind of point-based system to assess and screen the immigrants, is another thing. We must carefully and thoroughly study the issue, for it may affect not only the lives of the immigrants but those living here in America.

Point-based systems require frequent tweaking

As the experiences of the four countries show, constant and frequent tweaking of merit-based immigration policy is necessary. Countries need to adjust, both to their present situation, as well as to the world situation as a whole, to come up with a great arrangement for those would-be immigrants.

The policy must respond to the country’s respective needs and must tailor their policies accordingly. Failure to do so might result in new problems and other unforeseen circumstances. If this is not done, immigration policies, instead of helping to solve social and economic problems, might be responsible for creating new ones. This must be avoided.

And that is why the U.S.A. must study carefully and thoroughly the idea of adopting some kind of merit-based immigration system. If the experience of those nations is any indication, it might not alleviate current problems, but actually, worsen them. Advocates of this policy, therefore, must think about it deeply and carefully.

Merit Based Immigration


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About the author

Jess Man

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Diversity Advisor at Diversity Social. Jessica has over 10 years of working with and advising employers to be more diverse and create an inclusive working environment.
Jessica's experience spans private and non-profit sectors in multiple industries.
Jessica's expertise experience is beyond Diversity & Inclusion, she is also a certified professional IT recruiter in Data & Analytics, Database administration, Artificial Intelligence area.