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Could we learn from how Canada manages its foreign workers?

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Two years ago, President Donald Trump proposed a plan to modernize our immigration system that included a merit-based point system for employment-based visas and a substantial reduction in family-based immigration.

According to Trump, only 12 percent of the legal immigrants were being selected on the basis of skill or merit. Green cards were being given mainly to low-wage and low-skilled immigrants who compete for jobs against the most vulnerable Americans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded that she and her caucus wanted comprehensive immigration reform, but it would have to include a pathway for DACA recipients and “respect for family.” Trump’s focus on a merit system did not accomplish either objective.

Frankly, I think the belief that Trump had an anti-immigration agenda made people who disliked him so distrustful of his intentions that they wouldn’t give serious consideration to any immigration measure that he proposed.

The same cannot be said about Canada, however, and it has a merit-based point system for employment-based visas that has been very successful.

According to polls based on Gallup’s Migrant Acceptance Index, Canada was the most-accepting country in the world for immigrants in 2019. It welcomed 341,000 new permanent residents in 2019. The United States was in sixth place.

More than 20 percent of the people in Canada are foreign-born, which is one of the highest ratios in the industrialized Western countries.

Moreover, it has a broad range of settlement services for labor migrants and their families.

President-elect Joe Biden might benefit from studying Canada’s merit-based point system for selecting foreign workers.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states as its first objective, “to permit Canada to pursue the maximum social, cultural and economic benefits of immigration.”

Canada established its first merit-based point system for selecting foreign workers in 1967. It was modified periodically, but Canada replaced it in 2015, with a new point system known as, the “Express Entry System.” The new system speeded up the selection process and reduced backlogs.

The first step is each applicant must create an “Express Entry Profile,” which can be done online. It should indicate eligibility for one of Canada’s three foreign worker programs, the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, or the Canadian Experience Class.

Applicants who establish eligibility for one of the three programs and meet other qualification requirements are put in an entry pool where they will wait to see if they are going to be offered an opportunity to apply for permanent residence.

Canada’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) provides them with a score which determines their place in the pool. This includes a core set of up to 600 points and a set of up to an additional 600 points.

Core: Up to 600 points

  1. Skills and experience factors;
  2. Spouse or common-law partner factors, such as their language skills and education; and
  3. Skills transferability, including education and work experience.

Additional: Up to 600 points

  1. Canadian degrees, diplomas or certificates;
  2. A valid job offer;
  3. A nomination from a province or territory;
  4. A brother or sister living in Canada who is a citizen or permanent resident; and
  5. Strong French language skills.

Core points + Additional points = your total score

Applicants can estimate their points by using the online CRS Score Calculator.

Applicants who are invited to apply for permanent resident status have 90 days to submit a complete application with proof of the information they provided in their Express Entry profiles.

They also must include police certificates for themselves and family members who have reached the age of 18. Applicants who have a criminal record may not be allowed to enter or stay in Canada.

Provinces and territories can nominate candidates to meet regional labor market needs. Some provinces and territories search in the pool for candidates; others require applicants to apply directly.

Benefit of a merit-based system for selecting foreign workers

Benjamin Johnson, the Executive Director of the American Immigration Law Association (AILA), contends that, “a points-based system would be an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into U.S. businesses’ decisions on the type of talent they need to fit their needs.”

Employers probably do have a better understanding of the needs of their businesses than the federal government would, but a point-system like the one Canada has would just provide them with a pool of qualified candidates to choose from. They would still be able to base their choices on the needs of their businesses, and the availability of the pool should make it easier for them to find the foreign workers their businesses need — if the criterion for awarding points is updated periodically to ensure that it is meeting business needs.

And using a merit-based point system for choosing foreign employees seems to have worked very well for Canada. Canada issued 107,350 invitations to Express Entry candidates in 2020, which is the highest total it has ever had.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow his blog at

Tags Canada Donald Trump Human migration Immigration Joe Biden Justin Trudeau Nancy Pelosi Skilled worker work visas

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