The Trump Administration have announced on May 16, 2019 that it has created a plan to reform the U.S. immigration system. Specific details of the plan has not been announced yet, but President Trump described the new system to be a merit-based system that will assess permanent resident applicants on the basis of criteria that includes age, skills, education level, offer of employment, job creation potential, and wage levels. Applicants will also have to demonstrate financial self-sufficiency, English-language proficiency and pass a civic exam. This isn’t the first time a merit-based system has been introduced. Two Republican Senators introduced the RAISE Act in 2017 which did not pass in Congress. To learn more about the RAISE Act, please click here.
The announcement also stated that the 4 million individuals currently waiting in the family and employment-based backlogs will have their immigration applications eliminated, regardless of how long they have been waiting. Under current U.S. immigration law, the waits for an immigrant visa (green card) is based on your place of birth. Retrogression happens because of the per-country limit of visas that was imposed by Congress. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) specifies that a single country can only be allotted 7% of the combined total number of visas allotted to family-based and employment-based applicants. In 2017, this meant that 25,260 immigrant visas were given to any single country. New visas become available at the beginning of every fiscal year.
In the new proposal, there will be no per-country limits. This could mean that some long-awaited applicants will gain permanent residents more quickly if they qualify under the merits system, however it would also mean that many individuals who had valid and legal claims for permanent residency and have waited for years for their number to be called will be eliminated from the system without possibility of being granted a green card. This will mostly impact family-based immigration applicants as the employment-based applicants are already required to reach a certain level of education and employment under the current system. Many of the family-based applicants are brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, adult children of U.S. citizens, and parents of U.S. citizens.
At this stage details of the new policy have not been released. The policy will also have to be approved by Congress. Announcement of a new policy is just the preliminary step towards immigration reform discussion. The White House still have to draft the bill to introduce to Congress and the timing of when this might happen is unclear.
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