The RAISE Act, if passed, will reduce the number of green cards issued to migrants by half
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, February 12, 2017 – In a climate of uncertainty with a new US administration in place, two Republican senators have upped the concern for migrants by proposing a bill which will virtually overhaul the immigration system by significantly reducing the number of green cards (legal permanent residency) granted for non-employment purposes.
At a press conference held on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia introduced the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act which calls for slashing the number of legal immigrants by half and placing a cap on refugees.
If passed, the bill will reduce immigration to 637,960 in its first year and to 539, 958 by its tenth year which is a 50 percent reduction from 1,051,031 in 2015.
The proposed legislation is predicated on economic imperatives – promoting higher wages for working Americans. The text reads that it aims to “help raise American workers’ wages by restoring legal immigration levels to their historical norms and re-balancing the system toward employment-based visas and immediate-family household members”.
The RAISE Act outlines a three-pronged approach to cut back legal immigration and serve the American economy as follows:
– Retain immigration preferences for spouses and minor children of US citizens and legal permanent residents while eliminating preferences for extended relatives with one caveat: elderly parents will be allowed on a renewable temporary visa as long as they do not work or take public benefits, and their children can vouch for taking care of their health-care needs;
– Eliminate the 55,000 visas arbitrarily allocated to the Diversity Lottery which the two senators believe is “outdated” and “plagued with fraud”;
– Limit the number of green cards for refugees to 50,000 per year, in line with historical averages in the Bush/Obama era.
At the press conference, Senator Cotton underscored that the bill targets only non-employment based immigration. “We specifically do not touch any category of employment-based immigration whether green cards or temporary visas”, he said.
It is noteworthy that the Act will not affect recipients of H-1B visas: nearly half of these high-skilled visas have been issued to Indian citizens in recent years.
But, Senator Perdue made it clear that work-related immigration needs to be addressed. “H-1B, EB-1, EB-2, all of these need to be addressed and they will be in due time. These are programs that definitely need to be revamped”, he emphasized.
About the RAISE Act, he said, “This is a first step. It is not a sweeping, comprehensive effort to solve all immigration problems, nor does it address illegal issues”. The lawmaker explained, “We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system. Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages”.
Senator Cotton stressed, “It’s time our immigration system started working for American workers. The RAISE Act would promote higher wages on which all working Americans can build a future – whether your family came over here on the Mayflower or you just took the oath of citizenship”.
He bemoaned the surge in low-skilled immigration which has hurt blue-collar wages in America, noting that only one out of fifteen immigrants is coming to the US for employment reasons. “If we needed all of these people because of their skills, they would be coming here on an EB-1 or EB-2 visa. But, they are not. Instead, we let them in without consideration of our workforces’ needs”, he said, adding it has led to “a sharp decline in wages for working Americans”.
Regarding support from the White House, Senator Cotton disclosed, “I have discussed the legislation with President Trump as recently as this morning. He strongly supports the broad concept of moving our legal immigration system towards a merit-based system. We have also been in close contact with various members of his staff as we worked on the details”.
The lawmaker is hoping to find support for his legislation among Democrats and moving it forward later this year. “Obviously, it’s a controversial topic, but we will be working closely not only with the Republican leadership, but with Democratic senators who share these concerns that we have about working class wages”, he told journalists.
Bringing Democrats on board, will not be easy. Following the introduction of the RAISE Act, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire lamented, “This legislation sends a terrible message to the rest of the world and is unquestionably a job killer. As a nation of immigrants, this bill runs counter to our values. The facts are clear: immigrants contribute greatly to our country’s entrepreneurial spirit, spurring job growth in New Hampshire and across the country. Cutting successful visa programs and needlessly separating immigrant families is just wrong and senseless”, she said in a press statement.