Green card blues

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on May 21, 2019

Trump’s new plan won’t become law for now

US President Donald Trump announced a sweeping new immigration plan recently, proposing dramatic changes to America’s highly sought-after green card programme. The proportion of people who get green cards based on “employment and skill”, now 12 per cent, would shoot up to 57 per cent, a five-fold increase which is welcome news to millions of Indians. But the total number of new green cards would remain unchanged at 1.2 million each year.

Trump’s plan has zero chance of becoming law because of political opposition about numerous other aspects of his proposal. Also, major legislation in America never happens with a presidential election looming just 18 months away.

Trump borrowed ideas from Australia and Canada which have successfully operated points-based programmes for years. Trump awards merit points to applicants based on age, educational background, and job offers. A younger individual with a Ph.D. in a hot field and a job offer from an American company wins many more qualifying points than someone older, speaks poor English and has no job.

Trump’s plan is cleverly designed to help America more than the applicant. Young and high wage-earners pay income and payroll taxes while drawing few government benefits; buy big-ticket items like homes and cars which help employ lower and middle-income Americans, and take on jobs which locals are unqualified for, thus slowing the rate at which America outsources jobs to other countries while strengthening American competitiveness.

Applicants would be grouped into three buckets: those with extraordinary talent; people with professional and specialised skills; and exceptional students. With many young Indians on H-1B or F-1 student visas already falling into one of these buckets, this proposal is a boon. But by merely taking away green cards from two powerful groups — family-based and humanitarian beneficiaries — and giving them to skilled persons, the plan invites substantial political opposition.

Trump also eliminates the diversity visa lottery, a strange programme which randomly grants 50,000 green cards each year to under-represented countries on humanitarian grounds. Most of these countries, through congressional lobbying, would also strongly object to the plan.

Most importantly, any plan must address illegal immigration. In February alone, more than 76,000 illegals crossed the border, the highest number in 12 years. Adding to the confusion is the state of nearly 2 million immigrants who entered America illegally when they were children. Trump is silent on all these important questions.

Giving illegals a pathway to citizenship amounts to granting them amnesty, an idea which is anathema to Republicans. Having the immigrants leave the country, learn English, and stand in the back of the line to become legal residents is an idea hated by the Democrats. Of the 22 Democrats running for president, nearly all have called for the elimination of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Immigration is a major issue deeply dividing the country, and hence, Congress, guaranteeing that no law will be passed. Most Americans are for immigration as long as the new immigrants live somewhere else and take someone else’s job. Under Trump’s proposal the current wait to obtain a green card for young Indians on H-1B and H-4 dependent visas would shrink from nearly 18 years to just four years. If it only could become law.

The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, US

Published on May 21, 2019

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