Last week, President Trump lent full throated support towards the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), which will dramatically alter the immigration system in the United States the way we know it. Although this bill, proposed by Republican Senators Cotton and Purdue has little chance of moving through Congress, it has drawn significant attention as it intends to redefine America’s immigration experience over the last two centuries.
The RAISE Act deemphasizes immigration through the family, and instead creates a points system based on skills. A successful applicant must get at least 30 points. The bill insists on English language proficiency, and allocates 0 to 12 points based on test scores. Those with US professional degrees or a doctorate in a STEM field will get the maximum of 13 points for education. By contrast, a high school diploma gets 1 point, a foreign bachelor’s degree gets 5 points, a US bachelor’s degree gets 6 points, a foreign master’s degree in a STEM field will get 7 points, a US master’s degree in a STEM field will get 8 points and a foreign professional degree or doctorate in a STEM field will get 10 points.
The younger one is the more points he or she will get, and those within the 26-30 years age range will get the maximum of 10 points. 25 big points are given for extraordinary achievement, but you must have won a Nobel prize or gained comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study. There are no comparable points for extraordinary achievement in the arts or business fields. For sportspeople, you will get 15 points if you won an Olympic medal or placed first in an international sporting event in which the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented. Those with job offers, based on how much the offered wage will be over the median salary in the state where the job is located, will also get points ranging from 5 to 13. Investment in a new commercial enterprise at $1,350,000 will fetch 6 points; and an investment of $1, 800,000 will fetch 12 points.
The bill eliminates the diversity lottery program, or green card lottery, which awards 50,000 visas annually through a lottery from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. It caps the number of refugees granted permanent visas to the United States at 50,000 per year. Most devastatingly, the RAISE Act eliminates all the family preferences, and only maintains the preferences for spouses and minor children of permanent residents. Parents of US citizens will no longer be treated as immediate relatives, but can come on renewable temporary visas. The definition of a minor child is changed from 21 to 18. The worldwide family quota is cut from 480,000 to 88,000 minus the number of people paroled into the United States who have not departed within 365 days and have not received a green card within 2 years of getting parole status. Pending family based petitions are voided except for those that are scheduled to get green cards within one year and entry into the United States must happen within one year of the bill’s enactment.
Most pro-immigration reform advocates have not supported this bill, except for some notable exceptions like Vivek Wadhwa who wrote Why As An Immigrant, I am Not Outraged By Trump’s Immigration Proposal. On the other hand, restrictionist immigration organizations such as FAIR and Numbers USA have readily embraced the bill. The reason for their ready embrace is that the RAISE Act drastically cuts immigration levels, and the points system will prove to be unworkable. Steven Miller, a senior White House aide and one of the architects of RAISE Act and the travel ban, famously got into a heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta. Acosta asked Miller if the bill would violate the spirit of the poem New Colossus, inscribed at the base the Statue of Liberty, which includes the famous line: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Miller retorted that the statue is “a symbol of American liberty lighting the world” and the “the poem that you were referring to was added later and was not part of the original Statue of Liberty”, and then went on to combatively quiz Acosta on what level of immigration would violate his “Statue of Liberty law of the land”. The RAISE Act also appears to be a xenophobe’s delight as its main aim is to restrict immigration levels. Mr. Wadhwa, who is not a xenophobe and is pro-immigrant, approaches his embrace of the bill differently by arguing that the US immigration system needs to attract skilled talent on green cards, rather than temporary H-1B visas, so that they can start the next generation of great companies in the United States rather than depart the United States under our current imperfect system and start companies in competitor nations like China.
Wadhwa certainly has a point. We need to reform our immigration system to keep skilled talent, but not at the expense of decimating everything else, including the values represented by the Statute of Liberty. Most economists credibly argue that more immigrants create more jobs, and that restricting immigrants will not necessarily create more jobs for American workers. The RAISE Act keeps intact the annual 140,000 limit for employment-based immigrants that was set in the Immigration Act of 1990, in addition to drastically restricting all other visa categories. Although per country limits are abolished, derivative family members are counted as part of the 140,000 limit which will eat into the pie. It provides no pathway to permanent residence for lower skilled but essential workers who support the American economy. Despite conflicts of interest, even President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago filed labor applications with the Department of Labor for 15 housekeepers, 20 cooks and 35 servers. Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, FL filed labor applications for 6 cooks. These are for temporary H-2B visas with no green cards at the end of their temporary stay.
Worse still, RAISE Act is cruel to the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions from India and China who are caught in the crushing employment-based second and third preference employment backlogs. The bill does not grandfather them, implying that they will need to re-apply under the new points system after waiting for over a decade. Since they have gotten older by 10 or more years, they will lose out on maximum points for age. If their approved I-140 immigrant visa petitions are based on non-STEM degrees, even if they have PhDs, they will not get the same points for education as those with master’s degrees in STEM fields. Even people caught in the China EB-5 backlog will unduly suffer. When they reapply, they will not get any points on the $500,000 investments they have already made as the investment threshold in the RAISE Act that will fetch points have been substantially increased, and they will also likely lose out on English skills. One can also imagine the backlogs that will be created when hundreds of thousands of in the existing employment-based preferences apply under the points system of the RAISE Act. People will be re-applying over and over again. The RAISE Act points system, which seems to be a bastardized version of the Canadian and Australian point systems, could lead to other absurd results. If you are 46-50, have English scores in the 6th or 7th decile, have a foreign bachelor’s degree, and have a lucrative job offer, you are flatly disqualified from coming under this system. Even if you’re age 41-45, and so get 4 points for age rather than 2, you would have only 28 points total and be completely ineligible. No wonder that FAIR and Numbers USA love the RAISE Act. Mr. Wadhwa ought to rethink his position.
Immigrants with all sorts of backgrounds contribute to the United States, and it is fallacious to think that only those with STEM degree will. If a famous restaurant specializing in North Indian cuisine cannot hire a good tandoori chef on a permanent basis, then the restaurant will not be able to prosper and hire additional restaurant managers, catering supervisors and bartenders from among the US workforce. America, therefore, needs both STEM graduates and Tandoor chefs! Moreover, a nation needs both social justice and good economics; indeed, social justice is the best economics. Therefore, cutting refugee admissions is not a good idea. A good example of the synergy between social justice and economics is Sergey Brin, who is the co-founder of Google. He came to the United States with his parents at the age of six because they faced anti-Semitism in their native Russia. Although Brin graduated from Stanford in computer science, he did not come to the US on an H-1B visa or would have benefitted under a hypothetical RAISE Act points system. His parents were able to come into the United States based on an immigration program that was designed to protect foreign nationals from intolerance in their native countries. Still, Brin after coming to the US as a youngster was able to go on to found Google, considered one of America’s best and most innovative companies today. The insistence on learning English before one arrives is also not necessary. Indeed, culture through dance, food and music is best preserved through the language of the country where it emanates, and America will be that much more enriched if it embraces the authentic cultures of immigrants who in good time will learn English – surely, their descendants will speak English.
We should have immigration reform that admits more immigrants rather than less, as David Bier has cogently argued in a recent NY Times Op-Ed. A points system is fine if it compliments other existing immigrant visa categories. A good example was S. 744 that was passed by the Senate in 2013 in a bipartisan manner that comprehensively reformed the immigration system by expanding pathways to permanent residence, and also included a merits system. The RAISE Act does not do this and is a terrible idea, and furthers Trump’s America First agenda, which like his proposed wall on the Mexico-US border, is based on dubious economics and has not yet proven to have any merit. While the RAISE Act bans low skilled workers, it may also attract PhDs who may drive Ubers in America. This has been the experience in Canada under the points system, where highly qualified people have immigrated without being matched with jobs. Unlike Mr. Wadhwa, I am justifiably outraged as an immigrant by Trump’s immigration proposal.