U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce a proposal that will include significant changes to the way green cards are allocated, by dramatically reducing the number of family-based green cards and moving towards a points-based (“merit based”) system that will reward, among other factors, education, skills and English language skills.
The plan is also expected to contain proposals to boost border security and tighten asylum procedures.
The President is scheduled to make an announcement at the Rose Garden of the White House on ‘modernising our immigration system for a stronger America.’
Change in balance
Mr. Trump’s new immigration plan, details of which have been reported widely in the U.S. media, will seek to reverse the balance of green cards that are given through the family route versus a skills-based route.
However, the overall number of green cards, just over 1.1 million in 2017, will remain the same.
Currently about 12% of those receiving green cards entered the U.S. based on skill-based visas (such as the H1B), while some 66% are family-based green cards.
The new proposal will increase skills-based green cards to close to 60%. Points will be awarded to applicants based on their education, work experience, age, English language ability etc.
The White House proposal also seeks to discontinue the diversity lottery for green cards, which currently makes 50,000 green cards available to under-represented groups each year.
The proposals, if they eventually turn into law, are likely to have a significant impact on Indians who interact with the U.S. immigration system. A large majority (over 70%) of H1B visas, for skilled workers, went to Indians in fiscal year 2018. Many of these are eventually converted to green cards. Indian residents getting green cards have been in the range of 57,000-62,000 in the 2015-2017 period.
However, it is far from clear that a shift towards a points-based system will make the prospects of Indian skilled migrants wanting to settle in the U.S. easier, as bringing family members over, especially elderly parents, may get more complicated.
“If Trump’s plan became law, millions of U.S. citizens and permanent residents-including those who first arrived as H-1B workers-would no longer be able live in America with their parents and children,” Doug Rand, who worked on immigration in the Obama White House and now runs a firm that helps immigrants get green cards, told The Hindu.
“ But this has no chance of becoming law-it’s just a cynical PR move that pays lip service to high-skill immigration even as the Trump administration is systematically dismantling high-skill immigration with every tool at its disposal,” Mr Rand said. The Trump administration has made regulation around legal immigration more stringent, such as by seeking to clamp down on work-permits for spouses of migrants.
The second part of the White House proposal seeks to reduce illegal migration to the U.S. by building “physical barriers” in sections of the southern border with Mexico. It will also make it harder for individuals to claim asylum (which is a right under U.S. and international law).
The White House immigration plan was designed , as per reports, by Mr Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller, senior advisor to Mr Trump, who is considered a right-wing immigration hardliner .
The proposal seeks to bring Republicans together around the immigration debate that will be a focus in the 2020 Presidential elections.However it is by no means a given that it appeal to the Republicans. Mr Kushner and Mr Miller lobbied Congressional Republicans earlier this week and reportedly failed to get strong support.
It is even less certain that Democrats will support the bill. Based on details currently available, the proposal also does not appear to address concerns the Democrats have with current asylum laws. It also remains silent on how to deal with the status of millions of “dreamers”, individuals who were brought into the U.S. illegally as minors.
“The idea that for every immigrant they help, they “hurt one, all of that is no good,” the New York Times quoted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as saying.
“Don’t come up with a plan that Stephen Miller rubber stamps and say, ‘Now pass it.’ It’s not going to happen,” Mr Schumer said.
“I don’t think it’s designed to get Democratic support as much as it is to unify the Republican Party around border security, a negotiating position,” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said. Mr Graham released his own immigration proposal on Wednesday.