WASHINGTON: In yet another shot at immigration reform that eluded both his democratic and republican predecessors, US President Donald Trump on Thursday unveiled proposals that favours merit and skill-based immigration while reducing the current emphasis on family-based immigration.
For India, the proposed changes, which have to meet legislative approval to become law, could mean a significant transformation in the kind of people who can immigrate to the US: Educated, English-speaking aspirants with specific skills, job offers, and ability to assimilate into American culture will get preference over those who immigrate merely on the basis of sponsorship from spouses, siblings, and even cousins.
Speaking from Rose Garden, Trump said right now the US immigration laws “discriminate against genius” and “discriminate against brilliance” because most of the green cards are given to low-skilled people who would make low wages.
The US currently issues more than 1 million green cards each year granting foreigners legal permanent residency (which typically leads to citizenship), of which about 1,40,000 (12%) are based on employment and the rest on family ties, refugees status, and a diversity lottery.
Under Trump’s proposal, those numbers would be broadly reversed, with 57% of all visas going to immigrants with particular skills or offers of employment. “This will bring us in line with other countries and make us globally competitive,” the president said, asserting that the plan would make the country’s immigration system “the envy of the modern world”.
The proposals, which are the work of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, may not get congressional approval because it displeases too many lawmakers in both republican and democratic ranks. For one, the middle-of-the-road proposals do not envisage a net decrease in immigration, as demanded by Trump’s hardline nativist constituency, or even a reduction in Green Cards, the permanent residency permit that typically paves way to citizenship. On the other hand, it does not also address issues of more than 11 million undocumented workers, including 2 million the so called “dreamers” (people brought into the US as children), a major democratic demand.
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Many lawmakers and immigration activists — both for and against — were visibly underwhelmed by the proposals and some of them pronounced it “dead on arrival”, saying it will never pass Congress. Ahead of the speech, democratic house speaker Nancy Pelosi said “merit” was a “condescending” term.
Congress was not able to pass immigration reform laws even during the two terms of Barack Obama and George Bush when the political atmosphere was less toxic and there was greater bipartisanship. “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 election when we take back the house (of representatives), keep the Senate, and, of course, hold the presidency,” Trump said .
The proposed changes would increase the overall education level of immigrants, attracting foreign graduates and those with advanced degrees, and increase the current average salary for immigrants from $43,000 to $96,000. This would effectively bump up US tax collection and revenues and underwrite the expenses of its demographic aging. For India, it could also mean losing more of its best and the brightest.
(With inputs from agencies)
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