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Donald Trump’s doomed immigration plan helps, harms Indian hopefuls

If enacted into law, chances of which range between nil and dim, young, qualified, professional English-speaking Indian applicants will stand a better chance of qualifying for Green Card — going through the H-1B route — than those banking on familial ties to relatives such as children, spouses, siblings, parents or even grandparents.

world Updated: May 17, 2019 09:40 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Indians stand to both benefit and lose if this plan goes through because they are among the top beneficiaries of both streams, family and employment-based, as reflected in their numbers on the Green Card waiting list.(AFP)

US president Donald Trump on Thursday unveiled an immigration overhaul plan that favours merit, age, professional skills, education and proficiency in the English language over family ties for Green Cards, the last and final step towards American citizenship.

If enacted into law, chances of which range between nil and dim, young, qualified, professional English-speaking Indian applicants will stand a better chance of qualifying for Green Card — going through the H-1B route — than those banking on familial ties to relatives such as children, spouses, siblings, parents or even grandparents.

Of the 1.1 million Green Cards issued every year now, 66% go to relatives and 21% to asylum seekers and those picked in a visa lottery. Only 12% go to those seeking permanent residency through employment. President Trump intends to reverse that and take that 12% number to 57% or higher.

Also Read: Jobs, not family ties, key to US immigration

Indians stand to both benefit and lose if this plan goes through because they are among the top beneficiaries of both streams, family and employment-based, as reflected in their numbers on the Green Card waiting list. There were 282,207 Indians in line for family-sponsored Green Cards till 2018, in third place behind Mexico and Philippines; and there were 34,272 of them in the employment-based queue, second after those from China, according to US state department data.

But nothing is likely to change. The plan has been called dead-on-arrival and doomed. Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have slammed the plan’s emphasis on merit as “condescending” towards those coming through family connections. And, a big problem for them: the plan does not address the issue of “Dreamers”, undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, several thousand of them are from India.

President Trump acknowledged the plan’s uncertain future in his announcement remarks from the White House. “If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the (2020) election, when we take back the House, keep the Senate, and, of course, hold the presidency,” he said.

There are two parts to Trump’s “merit-based, high-security” immigration plan — a reform of the legal immigration system by changing Green Card rule and strengthening border security to prevent illegal immigration by building a wall along the border with Mexico, a personal priority for the president and a popular issue for his base.

The emphasis of Trump’s plan, put together by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, was on reforming legal immigration, which the president said has been “dysfunctional” for decades. But his overhaul will not reduce the number of Green Cards, abandoning an issue dear to Republicans for long.

The plan does intend to change the existing system drastically though, introducing a point-based system similar to versions in effect in Canada and Australia, close US allies, that favours applicants who are young, professionally qualified — not necessarily from IIT as Microsoft’s Satya Nadella smashed that mould a long time ago — and who are proficient in English.

There are plenty of other Indian-origin Americans who used the family-based system to bring over their family, relative by relative.

First Published: May 17, 2019 09:39 IST