New Limits on Legal Immigration Based on Merit, Skills Versus Family Ties May Evolve in United States

BY Kerrie Spencer

United States Legal Immigration
Young farmer in soybean fields


There may be a new approach to immigration in the United States. On August 2, 2017, President Donald Trump and two Republican senators, Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia), outlined what may be new limits on legal immigration and seek to create a system based more on merit and skills than family ties.

It appears that the thrust behind the legislation, the Raise Act, is to replace the current process for obtaining legal permanent residency/green cards, and instead launch a skills-base point system for employment visas. At the same time, the bill would eradicate the preference for U.S. residents’ extended and adult family members, but maintain priority for spouses and minor children.

The bill also hints at decreasing the number of refugees by 50 percent and getting rid of a program that offers visas to countries with low rates of immigration. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who considers the bill a “non-starter,” says, “The bottom line is to cut immigration by half a million people, legal immigration, doesn’t make much sense.”

Although the announcement was an initial reveal of what may be to come, barring other issues, Trump suggested it could stand for the “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.” The Senate regards the proposed bill in an entirely different light and does not see it gaining traction. Perhaps tellingly, the Senate appears to have ignored the measure, and there is no other lawmaker as a co-sponsor. The bill’s drafters suggest the law would raise wages, create more jobs and see the United States become more competitive over time.

The proposed bill would be in keeping with a Republican crackdown on illegal immigration, the travel ban and the attempt to eradicate federal grants for sanctuary cities – bastions of safety where authorities refuse to adhere to the federal agenda of apprehending, detaining and deporting illegal immigrants. Those goals are only a part of Trump’s stated agenda.

The second part of Trump's agenda is allegedly heralding changes to the legal immigration system to level the playing field for Americans needing work and to eliminate competition with American citizens for jobs. The White House added as a part of its press briefing on the proposed bill that only 1 in 15 immigrants comes to the United States because of their skills.

According to financial pundits closely watching how the economy is faring under the Trump administration, immigration does not affect wages in the long run. Indeed, immigration is the fuel for faster economic growth because adding more workers means more of a return on the government’s investment in the form of taxes, jobs and other contributions. Choosing to reduce the number of immigrants would dampen economic growth.

Senator Cotton indicated during the August 2 announcement that the bill would likely double the number of green cards for high-skilled workers and not affect low or high-skilled work visas (H1-B, H2-B). Numerous foreign worker H2-B visas have been requested for two of President Trump’s Florida private clubs, including the Mar-a-Lago resort.

At its core, the bill would institute a new points-based system favoring those who have the ability to speak English, can financially support themselves, have high paying-jobs offers and are able to offer skills that contribute to the economy. Or in the words of President Trump, “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first.”

Opponents to the bill suggested that if Trump’s grandfather were to apply for a visa today, under these proposed new rules and regulations, he would likely not obtain a visa. The immigration record for Friedrich Trumpf, in 1885, shows he arrived without a skill or “calling” and that he did not speak English.

Based on the proposed bill, Times magazine released a quiz for its readers to check if they would be allowed to immigrate into the United States. The quiz can be found on the Times website.

It is likely a mistake to pigeonhole immigrants coming to the United States as being dependent on government handouts and low skilled. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015 revealed that 41 percent of immigrants arriving in the United States in the five years prior to 2015 had college degrees and 18 percent had an advanced degree – figures that are much higher that the U.S. average.

While the merit-based system seems to work in Canada, it is important to note that the Canadian government considers far more factors than just those touted by the current administration. According to presidential adviser Stephen Miller, “The points-based system that Canada has, has a lot to recommend it.” "We actually took that and added things."

It remains relatively unclear just what was added based on the Canadian system, but it is clear the U.S. decided to slash the number of people coming into the country by at least half. And one other factor the U.S. has appeared to overlook, the agriculture industry (and other niches that rely on seasonal labor) may result in serious harm to the economy. Seasonal workers are the laborers in the fields that bring the crops to market. No laborers. No produce. No market. And the nation relies on those workers to put food on their tables.

Kerrie Spencer

Kerrie Spencer is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine.


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