Jared Kushner Makes the Case for Merit-Based Immigration

He says his plan will prioritize highly skilled immigrants and will "maintain our country's humanitarian values."


White House adviser Jared Kushner says he will present a plan to President Donald Trump making the case for a merit-based immigration system that prioritizes highly skilled immigrants over those with family ties to the United States.

Speaking at the TIME 100 Summit on Tuesday, Kushner said the U.S. should take a cue from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, all of which employ a complex points system to determine who is eligible for entry. This, he suggested, would "unify people" around strong American wages, a secure border, and humanitarian values.

"I do believe that the president's position on immigration has been maybe defined by his opponents by what he's against as opposed to what he's for," Kushner said.

That Trump's opponents have been more instrumental in branding his views on immigration than Trump himself is a dubious claim, as the president has consistently cast migrants as "criminals" and "rapists." He's also flipped on the subject more than once—just this year he said that he wants immigrants to come "in the largest numbers ever," but later claimed that "our country's full." (It isn't.)

But just what would a merit-based system look like here in the States, and how would it accomplish Kushner's ambitious end-game? The answer to that question is about as easy to pin down as is Trump's immigration stance.

Take Canada, for instance, which utilizes a multifaceted 100-point selection factor grid that considers language skills, education, age, work experience, arranged employment in the country, and adaptability. The latter category is quite broad, accounting for spousal factors, professional experience in Canada, as well as family ties to the area. (Although Kushner's plan has yet to be revealed, he seemed to imply that family ties and merit are mutually exclusive.)

That difference notwithstanding, it's likely that Kushner's proposal will look similar to Canada's. But our northern neighbor's approach is anything but a one-size fits all solution—it has one-tenth the population of the U.S., after all, with more people living in California than in all of Canada.

With a workforce that currently hovers around 130 million full-time employees—more than 300 percent of Canada's total population—it's impossible to expect the government to accurately predict a superlative economic balance, particularly if we're using Canada as the gold standard. The country has toggled back and forth between emphasizing labor market needs (which, with ineffective models, led to immigrant underemployment) and demand-driven factors (which brought an influx of immigrants who were considered to be unskilled).

If anything, Canada's experiment shows the unfeasibility of determining the optimal immigration level, particularly with varying interests at play. And these biases couldn't be clearer with Kushner's guest worker proposal, which he says will provide temporary visas to those seeking work in agriculture, hospitality, and a slew of other seasonal jobs (and which the Trump administration has already considered increasing in recent weeks). In other words, Kushner and Trump both tacitly acknowledge the economy's dependence on low-skilled immigrants, particularly as the country adds more jobs than it can fill.

Kushner's plan follows on the heels of the reintroduction of the RAISE Act, a bill spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) and backed by Sens. David Perdue (R–Ga.) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.). Also a merit-based proposal, it aims to cut legal immigrants in half. Kushner has called his bill "neutral" in closed-door meetings, per Axios, meaning that it will neither raise nor lower legal immigration levels overall.

Although comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely with a divided House and Senate, Kushner said at the TIME 100 Summit that he has the approval of both Stephen Miller, President Trump's hawkish immigration adviser, and Kevin Hassett, the pro-immigration Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

"If I can get Stephen Miller and Kevin Hassett to agree on an immigration plan, then Middle East peace will be easy by comparison," he said.