The points system adopted by many of the other larger emigration destinations is still awaiting implementation in the USA. The whole immigration system in America is in flux, in fact, as the House debates the Senate’s proposed reforms to the current immigration law.
Currently, there are several basic ways to come by a green card – America’s permanent residency program. Briefly, you’ll either want to be unusually talented in your area of expertise, related to an American citizen, be a skilled worker or a professional, have a lot of money to invest in the US economy or be fleeing persecution. The process is covered in more detail in our ‘Green Card – Yes Please’article, but to the outsider can seem both complex and arbitrary.
Many more people want green cards than there are green cards available, since the total number is currently capped at 140, 000 for employment based green cards. Consequently, one way to get a green card is through the annual green card lottery, which comes with its own set of eligibility rules. The US government’s own guides to its visa processes can be found here.
There’s another stumbling block too. The family visa system is as seriously snarled up as the employment based visa system. In part that’s caused by a 7% cap on the number of family visas that can be issued to people from any one country. As might be expected, very big countries like India and China send many more immigrants than very small ones, but the 7% cap still applies – so Indians and Chinese face a bottleneck, as do immigrants from non-US American countries and countries with historical ties to the US like the Philippines (the third most spoken language in California after English and Spanish is Tagalog, a Philippino language).
The new round of reforms is aimed at unblocking the resultant jam. The Senate bill hopes to create a merit-based system, working on a points system like that used in the UK and recently introduced elsewhere. The initial aim is to allow workers in the US on temporary visas to transition to permanent residence and then to citizenship. Points will be awarded on the basis of work history, education, family ties and English-language ability, reducing the number of separate streams of intake and assessing all immigrants on a more level playing field. The percentage caps on family visas will go and so will the absolute cap on work-based visa numbers.
The first five years of the new program will be oriented toward clearing the enormous immigration backlog, in the process dealing with the large number of illegal and grey-area immigrants already in the USA. After this, the next step will be to implement the points system by way of 120, 000 visas annually issued according to a structured measurement of merit.
The most comprehensive immigration reform in a generation passed the Senate and is still being kicked around the House of Representatives, with President Obama trying to push it through before the midterms. When it, or something like it, comes into force, what will it look like?
The New System – Probably!
Currently the bill makes provision for ten criteria and a possible 100 points overall. A university degree will be worth 5 points, a Master’s 10 and a doctorate level degree will be worth 15 points.
In the work experience section, each year of work experience will provide an applicant with from zero to three points, depending on the employment level, for a maximum of 20 points.
There are also points available for certain sector-specific skills. If you’re a programmer, computer scientist or software engineer or developer, that’s another 10 points. And it might seem unfair, but if your job is in an occupation related to your degree, you could score another 8-10 points there.
Another area you’ll have a chance to make up points on is the English language proficiency test. Score 80 or more, and you get another 10 points. If you’re a contractor who employs at least two people, that’s another 10.
So far, it looks like the new system is geared towards skills – much like the Australian points system for their work-based visas.
However, the new system will integrate family links too. You’ll get 10 points for being the sibling of a US citizen, or for being the married child, aged 31 or older, of a US citizen. And you’ll get points for being young too: if you’re under 25 you’ll gain 8 points, 25-32 year olds can expect six points and if you’re between 33 and 37, you’ll get four points. If you’re over 37, though, you’re out of luck: no age-related points for you. There is a chance to claw a few back in the form of community service, though: if you can prove your civic involvement, you can get a 5-point bonus.
A final clause offers an extra five points for coming from a country with low immigration to the US.
If the law passes this year – an outcome that still seems uncertain at the time of writing – it will be in force by October 2017, and over the years the number of green cards available could rise to 250, 000 from an initial base of what’s expected to be about 120, 000.
Currently, many people who wish to immigrate to the US will face the problem that they need their employer to sponsor their visa application: ‘for many at a bachelor level,’ immigration attorney Gregory Siskind told AFP, ‘you’re in a bind. So the points system will give you an alternative to relying on your employer to get a green card. For a lot of people, that’s going to mean freedom.’
Currently, US immigration is plagued by long waits, though the financial costs of US visa applications are lower than those of other English-speaking destinations like Canada and Australia. Those waits are expected to be solved when the new rules come into effect, and many people will find they have a much better chance of getting a green card under the new rules than the old ones.