The immigration bill agreed upon between the White House and a bipartisan dozen of Senators is now being debated in Congress. One of the features of the bill rewards would-be immigrants with great amounts of education.
An applicant for a green card under this “merit-based system” gets a score of 0-100. Applicants can get: up to 15 points for English-speaking, up to 10 points for family ties to U.S. residents, and up to 75 points would for job skills and education. The selection criteria would be set by Congress and could not be changed for 14 years.
In principle all of these components should favor more social capital-rich immigrants, since education and English proficiency are major predictors of civic engagement for immigrants. [Much has been written about the former, including in Bowling Alone; the latter is based on our extensive, as of yet unpublished analysis from our 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey.] Although spouses and children under 18 are automatically enabled to emigrate if their spouse or parent is already a U.S. citizen, siblings and adult children no longer have absolute rights. And some critics of the point system, like Nancy Pelosi, argue that it would continue to split up families, which would negatively impact one dimension of social capital (familial ties).
For some description of the controversy around this merit-based point system, see “A Point System For Immigrants Incites Passions” (NYT, Robert Pear, 6/5/07, p. A1).