On August 2, 2017 Republican Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) unveiled an immigration bill titled The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act). While the stated purpose of this bill is to increase skilled immigration to the U.S. and protect the American workforce, it would do neither of these things. Indeed, the effect of this bill would not be neutral – it would do great injury to the United States.
This bill purports to completely revise the U.S. immigration system by eliminating ALL family-based legal immigration categories except for spouses and minor children of citizens and permanent residents. Even within this limited category, it would change the cutoff in the definition of a child from 21 to 18 years of age. It includes an extremely limited grandfather provision for applications previously filed by visa applicants in categories which would no longer be included in the immigration law. It adds a new temporary visa category for parents of U.S. citizens, but even if the parents were issued temporary visas to come to the U.S. (for up to 5 years) they would not be authorized to work in the U.S. for that entire period.
The categories of family-based immigration that would be completely eliminated by this bill include parents of U.S. citizens, adult, unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children, unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and siblings of U.S. citizens.
The bill would also completely eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which grants up to 55,000 immigrant visas each year to people from countries around the world whose countries have been underrepresented in our immigrant pool. The Diversity Visa Program is important because it underscores that we value diversity in our country. Through this program we have welcomed immigrants from around the world who add greatly to our culture.
The bill also cuts refugee admissions to 50,000 per year. This is less than half of the number of refugees the United States had agreed to accept in 2016. How we approach refugee admissions and the manner in which we treat those who have fled unspeakable horrors speaks volumes about who we are as a country. Our refugee program is extremely strict and refugees must pass extensive background checks before being approved to come to the U.S. The vetting process typically takes many years. The combination of the moral and policy imperative to welcome refugees along with the strict vetting process that already exists, is a reason to raise, not lower, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.
Finally, the bill sets out a points-based system for immigrating to the U.S. that completely ignores the needs and input of U.S. employers. Individuals would have to submit applications claiming how many points they can prove, and only if they meet the threshold number of points to be “selected” by the government to apply for an immigrant visa, would they then submit a letter from a potential U.S. employer to verify that a job is waiting for them. The points that the applicant can prove will also be reduced if the applicant’s spouse would not independently meet the threshold number of points to qualify on his or her own.
This is a punitive system and it does not recognize the reality that U.S. employers typically employ foreign workers on temporary work visas, and once these employees have proved themselves in their jobs, the employers sponsor them for permanent status.
Lower-skilled immigrants would have no chance to immigrate to the U.S. unless they had a qualifying family relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Employers of both high-skilled and lower skilled workers care about the value that an employee can add to their organization and deserve a say in the employment-based immigration process.
Foreign students and those who have graduated from U.S. colleges and universities are ignored in this bill, as are artists, writers, musicians, entertainers and others who under existing law can immigrate if they can show they have risen to the top of their fields.
In this bill, foreign investors would face a higher investment threshold than exists currently and they would be held to a stricter standard for day-to-day involvement in the companies in which they have invested.
While the sponsors of the bill have said that its points-based system is modeled on the immigration programs in Australia and Canada, in fact those countries’ immigration programs are more generous and both Canada and Australia admit a much larger percentage of immigrants relative to the size of their populations.
We admit a tiny percentage of new immigrants to the U.S. relative to the size of our population. In 2013, new immigrants to Canada equaled .74 percent of Canada’s population. In the same year, new immigrants to Australia equaled 1.1 percent of the population. Yet new immigrants admitted to the U.S. in 2013 accounted for just .31 percent of our population.*
If the RAISE Act truly was intended to model Canada’s or Australia’s skills-based immigration systems, then it would need to increase the number of annual employment-based green cards by many hundreds of thousands of green cards per year.
This bill would not strengthen the U.S. It would weaken our country by separating families, reducing diversity, and turning away the types of immigrants that enhance our society and our economy.
* All statistics cited in this post are from Alex Nowrasteh’s article “Sens. Cotton and Perdue’s Bill to Cut Legal Immigration Won’t Work and Isn’t an Effective Bargaining Chip,” published by the Cato Institute on August 2, 2017.