The changing U.S. immigration system will favour qualified potential immigrants and block out those green card holders who overly rely on public benefits.
The U.S. legal immigration policy is changing. The country, which has long been known for its hospitality to newcomers, is reconsidering the impact of immigrants on its economy and social structure.
There are currently an estimated 13.2 million green card holders of whom 8.9 million are eligible for citizenship of the United States. The fact that most legal immigrants come to the country on the basis of random chance, either because they have a relative in the United States (66%) or are issued residency by random lottery or are selected for humanitarian relief (21%), is highly criticised by the U.S. government.
In his May speech on the reformation of the U.S. immigration system, U.S. President Donald Trump emphasised that only 12% of legal immigrants were currently selected based on skill or merit. In countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, this number is closer to 60-75%. The U.S. government aims increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration who obtain H1B visas from 12% to 57% in the near future.
In June, President Trump revealed plans to replace existing green cards with the merit-based “Build America” visa, where points will be awarded to applicants based on their education, work experience, age and English language ability. The new scheme particularly favours a good level of the English language, young age and job offers. New immigrants will have to show that they can financially support themselves and will need to pass a civics exam.
The new visa will dramatically increase the number of green cards that are given through the skills route versus the family-based route. However, the overall number of green cards, just over 1.1 million in 2017, will remain the same.
At the same time, the U.S. government seeks to solve a problem with over-reliance on public funds by immigrants. In August, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced a new rule restricting certain groups of immigrants from attaining Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) status, popularly known as a “green card”. Under the new rule, which took effect on 15 October, legal immigrants who have received specific public benefits for more than a total of twelve months after they arrived in the United States may be classified as a “long-standing public charge” ineligible for permanent residency.
The benefits in question include Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid and public housing assistance. Non-cash benefits and special-purpose cash benefits not intended for income maintenance are not subject to public charge consideration.
The Trump administration estimates that 58% of households headed by non-citizens use a public welfare programme and half use Medicaid. Importantly, immigration officials can now investigate the age, health, income, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills of family members of applicants for permanent residency to predict whether they might become a public charge in the future.
USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli stated the policy will “have the long-term benefit of protecting taxpayers by ensuring people who are immigrating to this country don’t become public burdens, that they can stand on their own two feet, as immigrants in years past have done.”
“For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation’s immigration laws. President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years. Throughout our history, self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream. Self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of hardworking immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States ever since. Through the enforcement of the public charge inadmissibility law, we will promote these long-standing ideals and immigrant success.”
– Ken Cuccinelli
The shift towards a merit-based visa allocation system that will favour those with job offers, post-graduate degrees and high-level skills over applicants with relatives already on the country arises criticism as well. Democrats are criticising the scheme, as it does not address the fate of millions of “Dreamers” who have long been living in the country illegally without visas. Republicans also point out that the scheme will not reduce immigrant numbers overall.
Image: Ben Mater