Last week, the White House announced the outlines of a plan that would revamp the country’s legal immigration system, cutting back family-based immigration in favor of “merit-based” immigration. Under that system, the US would prioritize high-skilled immigrants with college degrees who speak English fluently over immigrants with immediate relatives in the US.
Trump and his advisers claim that such a system (which is similar to the one in Canada) is simply about merit — the idea that high-skilled immigrants contribute the most to society. But even if you ignore the racist undertones of that idea, the plan is flawed even based on pure economics.
The US economy needs low-skilled immigrants much more than high-skilled immigrants. The country is experiencing a massive labor shortage across all industries, and businesses are having a much harder time finding construction workers, restaurant cooks, and hotel housekeepers than computer engineers and doctors. The most in-demand jobs are exactly the kinds of jobs that undocumented workers are doing, but Trump’s immigration proposal ignores them completely. In fact, his plan could make the shortage even worse.
The numbers say everything. In March, there were only 811,000 unemployed workers with bachelor’s degrees looking for work, and 1.4 million open positions for professionals like them. The US needs more high-skilled workers to fill all those positions, sure — but the gap is even bigger in low-wage industries that don’t require a college education.
There were more than 2.1 million open positions for low-skilled workers in March, but only 1.2 million people without college degrees looking for work. That’s nearly two jobs available for every unemployed person with nothing more than a high school diploma.
In that sense, low-skilled immigrants are the ones who could contribute the most to the US economy. An immigration system that puts them at the back of the line would make a difficult situation even worse.
By Alexia Fernández Campbell for VOX
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