The South Asian Times

10 December 2017 20:51 PM

Trump asks Congress to enact merit-based immigration, silent on H1-B visas

By Arul Louis

New York, Oct 9: While keeping mum on H1-B visas, US President Donald Trump has asked Congress to introduce a merit-based immigration system that could benefit Indians but would also deny green cards to some relatives of immigrants.

Trump's 70-point enforcement plan calling for stiff immigration reforms unveiled by the White house on Sunday night would continue to allow the spouses and children of immigrants to get green cards or permanent resident status but not their brothers, sisters and parents.

The goal of the merit-based system that awards green cards based on factors like education, employability and English language proficiency is "to promote assimilation and financial success", the White House said.

A merit-based system is likely to benefit India if the national quotas limiting green cards to about 20,000 per country per year are also done away with and they are awarded purely on merit.

Because of the large number of highly qualified Indians, most of the professionals from the country face an 11-year wait to get green cards and a merit-based system could cut down the delay. Professionals from all countries except India and three others do not have to wait for their green cards.

Trump's wide-ranging reform package proposes the stiffest immigration reforms ever offered by an administration and seeks to make good on his election promise of getting tough on immigration.

But it faces strong opposition in the Congress from Democrats and some Republicans making it unlikely to pass in the near future.

The request to Congress for legislation formalises the immigration reform plan he announced in August.

The proposals sent on Sunday deal only with permanent immigration and with illegal immigration, and not with the temporary H1-B visas given to professionals and advanced degree-holders from US universities.

India has expressed concern over the future of H1-B visas because Trump had said during his election campaign that he would limit them because he asserted they affected the employment prospects of Americans.

When External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month, she raised the H1-B visas.

So far the H1-B system has been functioning without any changes and the immigration service is processing applications at the same levels as before.

One of the items in the proposal that concerns Indians is the future of those brought in illegally by their parents as children and have grown up here.

It is estimated that there about 7,500 Indians in this category referred to as "Dreamers".

Former President Barack Obama issued a presidential order allowing the "Dreamers" to remain in the US and to work.

Trump is rescinding the order and asking Congress to pass a law not to allow them to stay on.

Yet another issue that concerns India is that of illegal immigrants and criminals whom the US wants to deport, but New Delhi has refused to accept some of them because of what it says are inadequate proof of their identity and Indian citizenship.

Trump wants Congress to enact laws to circumvent court rulings against indefinite detention of criminals who cannot be deported and allow the government to keep them in custody.

Three other major requests from Trump include funding the building of a wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants, tightening standards for admitting asylum-seekers, and enabling the "prompt" deportation of unaccompanied minors and families illegally entering the country.

"The administration can't be serious about compromise or helping the 'Dreamers' if they begin with a list that is anathema to the 'Dreamers'," Democratic leaders, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi, said.

Explaining the request for a merit-based immigration system, the White House said they were to "establish a point-based system for awarding green cards that protects US workers and taxpayers, encourages assimilation, and ensures the financial self-sufficiency of newcomers".

Administration officials who briefed reporters by phone, pointed out that the US was the only major industrialised country that did not have a merit-based immigration system.

The officials said that giving green cards to the extended family members like siblings and parents of immigrants created a system of "chain immigration" as each of them in turn could sponsor other relatives.

The "chain immigrants" were mostly low-skilled and they depressed wages at the expense of unskilled Americans from minority communities with whom they competed for jobs, the said.

Update: 09 Oct, 2017

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