By Bruce E. Buchanan
On August 2, 2017, Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) & David Perdue (R-GA) introduced Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act with the support of President Trump. Senator Perdue has stated this legislation will return to the United States’ “historically normal levels of legal immigration.” Is the RAISE Act a good idea for the United States – from an employer’s perspective and a moral perspective?
Key Points of RAISE Act
The following are the key points of the proposed RAISE Act:
1. Establish a Skills-Based Points System – It will replace the current employment-based green card visa process with a system that would prioritize applicants by points based on education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative. Experience does not count for any points. Age is a crucial factor with the younger you are (not including a minor), the more points you get. The total quota of visas remains at 140,000 (this number would include spouses and children) per year for visas in EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 and EB-4 categories. Employment-based numbers are to be divided with a limit of 50% being available in each six-month period. Applicants who apply will remain in the eligibility pool for 12 months and then will have to reapply.
2. Cut Total Immigrant Visas – It will reduce the annual distribution of green cards from 1 million to about 500,000. Although the sponsors state this level of visas returns the number to historical levels, it treats the number of immigrants in 1900 as the same as the number of immigrants in 2017, even though the U.S. population quadrupled during that time. To understand historical levels, one must control for the population of the country at that time.
3. Change meaning of Immediate Family – It will retain immigration preferences for spouses and minor children of USCs and permanent residents (LPRs) while eliminating preferences for USCs petitioning for parents, adult children or siblings and LPRs petitioning for adult children. Additionally, the age for an adult “child” for immediate relative sponsorship will be changed from 21 to 18.
4. Reduce the number of family-based green cards – Total family-based green card numbers will be reduced from a base 226,000 to about 88,000. This number will likely use all the 88,000 numbers, meaning only immediate relatives, who are spouses and children under 18 of U.S. citizens, will be able to immigrate.
5. Grandfather in potential immigrants awaiting entry under immigration categories eliminated by RAISE Act if their entry into U.S. is scheduled to occur within 1 year of RAISE Act’s enactment. However, if one is “in line” and their number is not called within the one-year grandfathering clause, one permanently loses their place in line and may not ever be able to get back in line.
6. Parents of U.S. citizens – They will be eligible for a “W” non-immigrant visa for up to five years with the possibility of extending if the citizen child continues to reside in the US. Parents will not be eligible to be employed or eligible for any public benefits.
7. Eliminate Diversity Visa Lottery – RAISE Act would eliminate the 50,000 visas allocated to this lottery.
8. Cap refugee admissions at 50,000 per year – The INA set a limit of 50,000 in the early 1980s for three years, but since then, the INA has permitted the President to set the level, which until 2017 was significantly higher than 50,000.
How Does Skills-Based System Work
Here’s how the skills-based points system works:
a. Applicants earn points based on education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative;
b. Applicants must reach 30-point threshold to be eligible for employment-based visa; and
c. Eligible applicants enter pool of potential immigrants from which USCIS twice a year invites highest scorers to file full applications and undergo security vetting.
The tie-breaking factors, in descending order are education (the higher the degree, the better), English skills, and age.
Employer Issues with RAISE Act
Historically, the United States has valued the ability of companies to sponsor employees. So, would this legislation impact that ability of employers? Yes, because the perspective employee that an employer seeks may not have sufficient points to immigrate under the merit-based system. A points-based immigration system would take the decision of who counts as a qualified individual away from employers and give the government more influence.
Furthermore, the RAISE Act fails to increase the number of employment-based green cards at a time when our nation needs to do so to attract the “best and the brightest”. The RAISE Act is also harmful to graduates from U.S. universities and would remove lower-skilled immigrants from the U.S. immigration system, even though these immigrants contribute positively to the U.S. economy.
Family-Based Visa Issues
The United States has always valued the ability of families to sponsor family members. Often immigrants desire to sponsor their parents or adult children in order to keep the family unit together in the long term. This legislation would deny this ability to keep the family unit together permanently, which I think all would agree is contrary to our values. The Act’s very narrow grandfather period is not enough and would unfairly penalize thousands of family-based immigrants who have been patiently waiting for years in a visa backlog.
Although everyone agrees our immigration system is broken, the RAISE Act does not appear to be the tool to fix it. Instead, the RAISE Act would cause serious problems for employers seeking to hire foreign nationals through employment-based visas. Additionally, this bill is contrary to American values and those magical words on the Statute of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”. Luckily, there is very little chance this legislation will ever become law.