Merit-based points system for immigration

The Donald Trump administration wants to change the system that allows immigration into the US. At present, being a relative of a citizen or permanent resident counts for quite a lot but they want to change it to a so-called ‘merit-based’ system. This is because while family relationships were considered good qualities when the family members coming in were mostly white and from Europe, demographics in the US have changed and there are now many more people of color and efforts are being made to keep America white by making family relationships less salient. Trump himself has made no secret of the fact that while he talks of merit, in his mind that means ‘white’.

Some time ago, the Trump administration put out guidelines for what the new system might consist of. Age, education, and English ability are the key factors.

Priority is given to prime working ages. Someone aged 18 through 21 gets six points, ages 22 through 25 gets eight points and ages 26 through 30 get 10 points.

The points then decrease, with someone aged 31 through 35 getting eight points, 36 through 40 getting six points, ages 41 through 45 getting four points and ages 46 through 50 getting two points.

Minors under the age of 18 and those over the age of 50 receive no points, though people over 50 years old are still allowed to apply.


Points are distributed based on the highest degree a person has achieved. One point is given for an applicant with a US high school diploma or the foreign equivalent. A foreign bachelor’s degree earns five points, while a US bachelor’s degree earns six points.

A foreign master’s degree in STEM fields earns seven points while a US master’s earns eight points. A foreign professional degree or doctorate earns 10 points and a US equivalent earns 13.

English ability

Points are also given out for English ability, as determined by standardized English test.

Anyone with less than a 60th percentile proficiency gets no points. Between 60th and 80th percentile is worth six points, someone in the 80th to 90th percentile range earns 10 points, someone with a 90th percentile proficiency or above earns 11 points, and someone in the 100th percentile range earns 12 points.

Job offer?

The only point scale that factors in whether an individual actually has a job offer in the US comes in the form of salary in an effort to boost wages.

Five points are awarded if an applicant has a job offer that will pay at least 150% of median household income in the state where he or she will be employed. That goes up to eight points if the income is 200% the median income, and 13 points if it’s 300% the median.

There are extra points of you have won the Nobel prize or some such or are an Olympic or similar medal winner or have a lot of money to invest, categories that almost everyone would be excluded from.

You have to have a total of 30 points to be eligible

The maximum points in the age category is 10 points, education is 13 points, English is 12 points, and for a job offer is 13 points for a total of 48 possible points. If you do not have a job offer, your maximum possible score is just 35 points. This means that anyone over age 41 will not qualify, nor will anyone without a master’s degree from a US university or who does not score in the 80th percentile in English proficiency.

I decided to see how I would have fared if the system had been in place when I arrived in the US. (It should be borne in mind that I did not enter the country as an immigrant but changed my status after arriving.) I would have just barely made the cut with 32 points, leaving out any job offer points. I estimate my scores to be age=8, education=13, English=11.


  1. Bruce says

    Based on my present job, I would have 33 points, due to being the advanced age of 58 and now useless and over the hill. And all of my ancestors look like they came on the boat from England in 1620, which some of them did. And my mother was D. A. R. As well (daughters of the American revolution, I.e., an ancestor was in the war).
    This evil plan will help Trump with much of his base. I expect few of them would ask how they would do on it, so they won’t be very offended at being disvalued. Now, if a clever candidate were to make this plain, then perhaps it could be an issue with traction against him. But don’t hold your breath.

  2. Andrew Dalke says

    I wonder who/what determines the scaling for the standardized English test. If it’s only people applying to immigrate then 60% of the people will always be below the threshold. Even if the only applicants are UK professors of English.

    That is, a percentile ranking is not a test for competency but a competition with other applicants.

  3. blf says

    The real test will be:

    ● Suspected of being Muslim — divert flight into the ocean and charge family for the cost of the missile and warhead; else
    ● Skin colour insufficiently white — sell to highest bidder; else
    ● Cannot pay multi-million dollar processing fee (only used Ruble notes accepted) to Trump Kleptocrats, UnLimited — are there any such people?; else
    ● Ok! — nominate for a judgeship or position in the dalekocracy.

  4. Chris J says

    Let’s see if I can get in…

    Age: 10 points
    Education: 6 points
    English Ability: Native speaker, but I’m not gonna be in the 100th percentile. 10-11 points

    Uh oh, not looking good for me. Only a max of 27 points, and I was born here!

    Oh wait, I have a job. Lessee… Oh, holy shit, the bottom tier is over 150% of median household?!?!? In MA, that’s nearly 113K! That, can’t be right, can it? Are they seriously only counting employment if an individual applicant makes over 1.5 times the household median (which often has multiple incomes)?

    That’s… insane. I make *really* good money at my job, and I just barely qualify for that 150% benchmark. Total of 32 points.

    So to put this in perspective, I was born here. I was born of parents who own a company. I went to a prestigious college and got my bachelors. And I’m making way more money in my profession than many of my peers who aren’t in tech. And I just barely qualify.

    What the hell…

  5. busterggi says

    So how did Melania’s parents’ score? I know they’re above 50 and had no job offers.

  6. lanir says

    The only point scale that factors in whether an individual actually has a job offer in the US comes in the form of salary in an effort to boost wages.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA, yeah that’s a good one. Boost wages? Yeah no. If they want to boost wages they can stop trying to shove the same useless trickle down economics on the nation.

  7. EigenSprocketUK says

    A phrase we used to hear a lot from the racist ends of the UK spectrum used to be “one out, one in” – meaning only allow someone to immigrate if someone else has recently returned. (Implicitly this was for foreigners.)
    But it makes me wonder how well a USA points-based immigration policy would go down if each approved immigration required kicking out an existing US citizen who scores very poorly. A citizen by birth. Suddenly the enthusiasm of the racist masses to vote for that would vanish, i expect.

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