Newcomers to U.S. more likely to find poverty, use government assistance than entrants chosen under merit-based system
Immigrants to Canada are younger, better-educated, and far more likely to be selected for economic reasons than their counterparts who arrive in America each year, according to statistics from both countries’ immigration agencies.
The data from immigrants in 2015, the most recent year available, illustrate why Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) have proposed such a radical overhaul of America’s immigration system. The pair of senators have said they modeled the RAISE Act — endorsed last week by President Donald Trump — after immigration systems in Canada and Australia, both of which stress merit over family ties.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a 2015 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that foreign-born Canadian residents outperformed their American counterparts on a range of social and economic categories.
U.S. immigrants were more likely to be poor and more than five times as likely to be living in an overcrowded dwelling. Immigrants to America also were less likely than migrants to Canada to speak the nation’s official language at home and less likely to attain citizenship after living in the country for at least 10 years.
After Sens. Perdue and Cotton first introduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act in February, the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation made a back-of-the-envelope estimate that the United States could save $1.7 trillion in public expenditures over the lifetime of low-skilled legal immigrants who would be barred from obtaining permanent residency.
James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation scholar who did not participate in making the February estimate, said Canada partially protects its more generous social welfare programs by maintaining an immigration system that is more selective about which migrants can come into the country.
“If you add a bunch of people to the safety net who aren’t contributing to the net, that adds a stressor,” said Carafano, an expert on homeland security.
A landmark report last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine indicated that the 55.5 million people who were first-generation immigrants or their minor children imposed taxpayers’ costs ranging from $43.4 billion to $298.8 billion in 2013.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the reason is simple: Immigrants in America skew toward lower levels of education, increasing the likelihood that they and their children will qualify for assistance.
Camarota said he has not projected the economic impact of the RAISE Act. But he added that mounds of research indicate that immigrant households are heavy users of federal government-assistance programs — even though most migrants must wait five years before they are eligible for those programs.
“If the bill, as intended, significantly improves the educational attainment of new immigrants and reduces the number of immigrants dependent on government assistance, then that will have a very positive impact on public coffers,” he said.
The majority of Canada’s immigrants in 2015 — 53.7 percent — were between the ages of 25 and 44, placing them in the prime working years. Family-reunification policies make America’s immigrants skew older. Migrants were nearly twice as likely to be between 45 and 64 in the United States vs. Canada. In addition, only 2.9 percent of Canadian immigrants were older than 65, compared with 5.6 percent in the United States.
How Canada Chooses Immigrants
The disparity between the performances of immigrants to Canada and the United States is no accident. While U.S. policy largely leaves the choice to immigrants themselves, Canadian policy ensures the opposite.
Canada tightly controls which immigrants can gain permanent residency, while the U.S. system largely is on autopilot, dictated by the recent arrivals who have wide latitude to sponsor relatives from the old country who want to also move to America, regardless of their skills or education.
With a large share of immigrants having no more than high school degrees and few job skills, that so-called “chain migration” reinforces the demographic trends. In 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security, only 13.7 percent of immigrants to America came because of employment preferences — such as immigrants with advanced degrees, professionals, skilled workers or even unskilled workers chosen to fill specific jobs.
Canada, meanwhile, admitted well more than half of its immigrants — 62.7 percent — under one of its economic preference categories. This includes skilled workers, such as tradesmen, but also categories such as caregivers.
Family-sponsored immigrants accounted for just 24.1 percent of the Canadian total. The immediate relatives and extended family members of U.S. citizens, meanwhile, made up 64.6 percent of all immigrants to the United States in 2015.
Canada and the United States both took in similar shares of refugees and asylum-seekers. But the United States accepted another 47,934 immigrants — 4.6 percent — through its diversity visa lottery, which awards green cards to applicants chosen randomly from among people all over the world.
John McCallum, Canada’s minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, explained in a 2016 report to Parliament the nation’s requirements for economic-based immigration.
“Applicants are scored and ranked using a ‘Comprehensive Ranking System,’ which allots points for human capital criteria such as age, language proficiency, education and work experience,” he wrote. “In addition, Express Entry includes an element of labour market responsiveness, allocating points for arranged employment.”
Those are the kinds of criteria that Cotton and Perdue have proposed embedding in America’s immigration system as it curtails chain migration. Under their legislation, immigrants still would be able to bring in their spouses and minor children. But they no longer could sponsor extended relatives for family-based immigration.
‘Super Visas’ Allow Long-Term Visits
Canada admitted 49,672 spouses, partners and children as permanent residents in 2015. The country allows citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their parents and grandparents for “super visas,” which are not a path to permanent residency but are good for 10 years and allow parents and grandparents to visit for up to two years at a time.
The country issued 17,320 super visas in 2015. To qualify, applicants must take medical exams; provide evidence of insurance worth at least $100,000 and covering hospitalization and repatriation; and written and signed promises of financial support by the host children or grandchildren, along with income documentation.
“Rooted in objectives outlined in IRPA [the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act], economic class immigration focuses on the selection and processing of immigrants to build a skilled work force, address immediate and longer-term labour market needs, and support national and regional labour force growth,” McCallum wrote in his annual report.
Carafano, the Heritage scholar, said he finds it “bizarre” that so many American liberals attacked the RAISE Act as racist given its similarity to the immigration systems of progressive Canada and Australia. Immigration is a complex topic, filled with nuances, he said. For example, he said, not all low-skilled immigration is bad. Migrants who perform low-wage tasks can help higher-wage earners be more productive.
He said there are legitimate concerns about the labor supply in certain sectors and in certain regions. Although there is a large pool of potential workers who are not looking for jobs — but might be attracted into the labor market by higher wages — it is not clear what it would take to achieve that goal.
And, Carafano noted, the high-caliber immigrants to Canada and Australia have not prevented those countries from suffering the same fate of slow growth that the United States has struggled with over the past decade.
Instead of debating those issues, he said, some liberals attach a “moral superiority” to an immigration system that has evolved with little thought for decades.
“There’s no logic for that,” he said. “The system we have developed on an ad hoc basis.”
Carafano said Cotton and Perdue have done the nation a service merely by engaging on what has become a “third rail” of American politics. It might not even be necessary for the bill to become law in order to change some behavior, he added.
“It’s starting a conversation that’s long overdue,” he said. “By just starting the conversation, the free market in the United States is going to start making decisions to accommodate this.”