The United States’ immigration system favors family members over workers. About two-thirds of all green cards issued annually are to immigrants whose qualification for being here is their relationship to American citizens or other green card holders. This is in contrast to countries with so-called merit-based immigration systems that favor skilled immigrants, such as Australia and Canada. Only 24 percent and 31 percent of annual immigrants to those two countries, respectively, gained permanent status through family connections. Comparing the composition of the immigrant flow obscures important differences in immigration policy: Canada and Australia allow in many more immigrants than the United States does as a percentage of the population.
The United States allows in about a million lawful permanent residents a year, the largest number of any country, but that is a small percentage of the almost 325 million people who already live in the United States – about 0.3 percent annually. By comparison, Australia Canada each allow in about 250,000 immigrants a year but they are much smaller countries with about 23 million and 35 million residents, respectively. Thus, as a percentage of their populations, the annual inflow of immigrants into Canada and Australia is significantly larger than in the United States. The annual number of immigrants to Australia is equal to 1.1 percent of the Australian population while the annual number to Canada is equal to about 0.7 percent of the Canadian population, which makes them 3.5 and 2.4 times as open to immigration as the United States, respectively (Figure 1). If the United States were to copy Australia or Canada’s merit-based immigration policies, our government would admit about 2.3 million to 3.5 million immigrants annually.
Immigrant Inflow as a Percent of Population, 2013
Sources: OECD, EuroStat, E-Stat, Citizenship and Immigration Canada