Friday, January 12, 2018

"Merit based" immigration - the new buzzword of xenophobes and racists

The frequent use of the term "merit based" to describe an immigration system in general or when addressing real or perceived shortcomings of the US immigration system really deserves only one comment.

Evil.

That's a harsh word for the blogster to use at all, so why is the sedate, gender neutral author of this post so upset with a word as positive as "merit"?

Because it* recently realized that the xenophobes of the world have found the immigration equivalent of the "death tax". Do you remember the term from the days US Republicans were throwing it around in every soundbite, on every Sunday talk show, in every article penned?

A disingenuous, emotionally loaded word playing on envy and fear, that's what the death tax was, and what merit based immigration has become. In the heightened state of racism and greed which characterizes the presidency of Donald Trump and GOP congress, merit is the new weapon to keep undesirables out of your country.

Leave it to Mr. Trump to make it blindingly obvious in his Norway remarks, as expressed in this and other tweets:
5h5 hours ago
The significance is bigger than “shithole.” The president’s supporters are pushing hard for a “merit-based” immigration model, but Trump today didn’t say he wants more doctors, engineers or scientists. He said he wants “Norway.” And Norway is not a skill.

Now, some may ask, if it is so obvious, what's the problem?

The tweet offers a glimpse, stating "doctors, engineers or scientists". These professions are perfect examples of the positive connotation of the term merit. Nobody would seriously object to bringing high value immigrants from these and other equally important fields into the US. Democrats and Republicans alike are advocates for premium immigrants, although not all engineers are good engineers to some. Just specify "software engineers", and you can see many GOPers and some Dems think Indian and become much quieter.

Merit, in the above tweet and in the wider discussion, is generally equated with skill. The poster child immigration systems of merit advocates are the Canadian and Australian systems, so let's have a cursory look at them.

One of the main criteria of the Aussie system turns out to be age, with the limits being 45 or 50, and some exemptions.

So, age is a skill, but being Norwegian is not, right.

There are regional incentives, too. If you are not a big city person and don't mind the cold, Canada gives you bonus points for migrating to Newfoundland.

Which, to the blogster, does seem to be a true skill.

Hey, there is merit in being young and willing to tough it out in Newfoundland, doesn't that support calling a system "merit based" instead of skill based, or points system? In a sense, yes, but it also expands the term merit from the praised "highly educated, hard working" to plain old economic need or outright emergency. If your country has an Express Entry list of skilled occupations with "railway carmen/women" and "agricultural contractors" in addition to the doctors and engineers, you are talking more skills than high minded "merits". And for a US audience, nothing says agricultural contractor better than undocumented Central American - the very definition of what the GOP and Trump view as undesirable.

Canada and Australia have a pragmatic approach to "merits", or skills, even if their leaders don't stress the merits of rail carmen or well diggers in their major speeches.

In reality, every single person who comes to the US on a visa has at least one merit: a return ticket, because a billion or more humans are utterly unable to ever afford a flight to the US.

Or take Germany, where conservatives rail against "uncontrolled migration". Ask a German citizen who marries, say, a Thai whether that Thai person can simply board a flight and move to Germany.

The answer is no.

A German and an American spouse on the other hand, how does that work?

Board a plane.

Oh, and if the Thai person passes the language test, he/she can come too. Language is a skill, Germans would agree, especially when it comes to mastering their language. Both the hypothetical Thai and the unicorn American have to demonstrate enough funds or income that they won't be a burden to the state - a merit the billion or so humans living on two dollars a day can only dream of.

Of course, that's not what the proponents of merit based immigration mean, hence the label evil.

* That's how we do gender neutrality here.

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