President Trump announced Wednesday he will support a revised Senate bill that would implement a merit-based point system for foreigners who apply for legal permanent status, or green cards, through their employer.
"This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century but the bonds of trust between America and its citizens. This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and America first," Trump said during a press conference at the White House Wednesday. "This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy."
The Washington Examiner first reported Tuesday evening Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas would meet with Trump on Wednesday to unveil an immigration bill, which was an updated version of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or the RAISE Act.
Trump's endorsement marks the beginning of a push toward a radically different green card policy in the United States compared to the one that's been in place for the past several decades.
It also marks a new approach to immigration reform than Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida had attempted in 2013 with the "Gang of Eight" bill.
The bill is the most significant type of green card reform since the GOP-majority Congress unsuccessfully tried to cut immigration numbers with a provision in 1996.
Trump's commitment to immigration reform while on the campaign trail focused on illegal immigration as opposed to protocols for those who use visas to enter the country. During his first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, Trump decried the "current, outdated system" that awards visas based on economic or humanitarian needs, as well as family connections.
"Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits," Trump said in February. "It will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class."
Perdue and Cotton originally introduced the bill in early February, only to spend the next several months updating the bill with new details that make an applicant's background the main factor in determining whether he or she gets approved for a green card.
The current immigration system often benefits family members of current U.S. residents, but Perdue and Cotton are pushing for a change that would force the U.S. to weigh the skill sets of potential candidates and favor those with more skills. The new version outlines how the specific demands of the U.S. workforce would determine which immigrants are needed, and thus, granted visas.
The revised RAISE Act steals a page from Canada and Australia, whose immigration laws prioritize high-skilled workers for employment-based green cards. The number of skills-based visas would increase under the proposal though businesses could rely more on outsourcing jobs to cheaper employees in other countries.
Trump argued that accepting job-qualified immigrants will increase wages for U.S. and immigrant workers, but the change could prove challenging for corporations who benefited from a steady flow of low-skilled workers.
Trump said the change would reduce the amount of government welfare being paid out because immigrants are increasingly working good-paying jobs.
"The RAISE Act prevents immigrants from collecting welfare and protects U.S. workers from being displaced. That's a very big thing. They're not going to come in and immediately go and collect welfare. That doesn't happen under the RAISE Act. They can't do that," Trump said Wednesday. "The RAISE Act will reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars."
About 50 percent of immigrant households receive welfare benefits, while 30 percent of nonimmigrant households receive government subsidies, according to a White House fact sheet.
The change is meant to make the application process fairer and allow applicants to know what their chances are of being approved before applying. People can go online, answer questions about their education and employment experience, and learn if their background would help fill a workplace shortage in the United States. Applicants would also receive a score to give them a concrete idea of their chances of obtaining a visa.
The diversity visa lottery would be eliminated while the number of green cards or documents for permanent residents would increase.
Family immigration categories would be narrowed to no longer include extended family members and adult children of U.S. citizens. However, citizens are able to apply for renewable, temporary visas for elderly parents.
If passed, the 1 million legal immigrants who enter the U.S. annually would drop to somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 people by 2027, putting it in line with historic norms.
Refugee admissions would also be capped at 50,000 per year, the 13-year average despite a recent increase of Syrian refugees.