The Corner

Immigration

Merit-Based Immigration Is Happening By Itself (for Now)

I’m a big fan of merit-based immigration: Like most Americans, I don’t think current immigration levels are too high — but I can’t see why we wouldn’t try to bring in the most educated and well-paid group of people we possibly could.

Fortunately — per new data released by the Census Bureau today, analyzed by William Frey of the Brookings Institution, and reported by the New York Times — it appears things are naturally headed in that direction: “About 45 percent [of immigrants from 2011 to 2017] were college educated, the analysis found, compared with about 30 percent of those who came between 2000 and 2009.” (I presume this is limited to adults above some age cutoff, as appears to be the case from my own analysis of previous Census data.)

This isn’t completely new news — a recent National Academies report made note of rising immigrant education levels; others have found that illegal immigration declined thanks to a combination of the Great Recession and changing conditions in Latin America. The movement toward higher-educated immigrants seems quite substantial, though there’s no guarantee it it will continue indefinitely, unless we make sure of it.

And it’s possible for this trend to go further. Estimates from the Urban Institute and the Penn Wharton Budget Model contended that newly immigrating permanent residents would be 50 to 75 percent college-educated under the RAISE Act, a Trump-supported bill that has gone nowhere. I disagreed with the bill’s cuts to the overall number of green cards, but its shift away from family-based immigration and toward skill-based immigration is a good idea.

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