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Trump backs bill to cut legal immigrations to the US, pain for some and gain for some

The legislation proposes to introduce merit-based immigration, in which an applicant’s eligibility is scored with regards to their English-language ability, high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative.

world Updated: Aug 03, 2017 22:15 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,RAISE Act,merit-based immigration
File photo of Donald Trump at the White House.(AFP)

US President Donald Trump endorsed a legislation on Wednesday that seeks to sharply cut legal immigration to the US and switch it to a merit-based immigration system, a move that could make America a more accessible destination for Indian applicants.

Unveiling the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE Act) at an event at the White House, Trump said it “would represent the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century”, in line with his campaign promise to create, “a merit-based immigration system that protects US workers and taxpayers”.

Introduced by Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue in February, the legislation proposes to introduce merit-based immigration along the same lines as Canada and Australia, in which an applicant’s eligibility for immigration is scored with regards to their English-language ability, high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative. Those with low or no skills will be discouraged.

The bill also proposed to cut the number of annual legal permanent residences from more than a million every year by 41% in the first year, and by 50% in ten years, by reducing drastically those admitted because of family ties. The number of employment-based green cards will remain the same at around 140,000.

The legislation also proposes to end the diversity visa lottery system, through which the US grants visa to individuals from parts of the world that do not send many immigrants to America, and slash the number of refugees granted residency to 50,000 from the current 100,000.

There was no direct reference in the bill to H-1B non-immigrant visas, that allow highly skilled foreigners to work for US companies for short tenures. But immigration lawyer Ramesh Khurana said holders of these visas who intend to stay and pursue a path to permanent residency and citizenship — under a well anticipated system of “double intention” — will find their prospects more difficult and lengthier than the current waiting time of 11 years.

“The bill needs changes to ensure fairness to people who have been waiting in backlogs for decades and to mitigate some of its sharper provisions affecting family immigration,” said Aman Kapoor of Immigration Voice, an advocacy promoting removal of country-wise cap on green cards responsible for the long waiting time for Indians.

Also, if enacted, the legislation will prevent Indian American citizens and residents from pursuing the same path for their parents and adult children, as it proposes to restrict relationship-based legal immigration only to spouses and minor children.

But there is a silver lining — the improved prospects under a merit-based immigration system that is likely to give weightage to skills and expertise other than STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — such as management, finance, and the arts.

Prospects of the legislations remain shrouded in uncertainty as well.

“Members of Congress have many businesses and voters in their districts that will be very vocal in their opposition to this bill,” Chirag Patel, an immigration lawyer. “Much will happen before anything is passed.”

Democrats have already come out against the bill. “In America, a person’s value isn’t determined by their language, skills, or skin colour. This isn’t what makes America great,” chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez tweeted.

And Republicans had objections as well. The bill’s proposal to discourage low-skilled immigrants will be “devastating” for South Carolina, said senator Lindsey Graham, as it relies on them for its leading economic sectors agriculture and tourism.

First Published: Aug 03, 2017 22:15 IST