Today (Aug. 2) President Trump announced his support for a Senate bill to drastically slash family-based and other immigration, eliminate the green card lottery (the diversity visa program) and limit the annual number of refugees to 50,000.  Two U.S. Senators (Tom Cotton and David Perdue) introduced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy or “RAISE Act.” The bill would also change the current employment-visa framework with a skills-based system that rewards applicants based on their individual merits, but focuses on highly-skilled workers.

The most drastic changes to the family-based system are as follows. IMPORTANT NOTE in immigration-speak, green cards are called immigrant visas. Temporary visas, such as student and visitor visas, are called nonimmigrant visas.

  1. U.S. citizens could no longer sponsor their parents, brothers and sisters, or any children over the age of 18 for immigrant visas.
  2. Parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old would be eligible for nonimmigrant visas for 5 years at a time. This could be extended for additional 5-year periods as long as the U.S. citizen sponsor still lives in the U.S. The parent can’t work in the U.S., can’t claim any public benefits, and the sponsoring son or daughter must arrange health insurance coverage at no cost to the parent.
  3. Any petition (application) filed for relatives in the categories being eliminated after today would be invalid.
  4. Immigrants due to receive visas within 1 year of enactment (we don’t know if or when that would be) would still be eligible for their visas. Others will not be. This is huge. It means those family members patiently waiting in line for years and decades may see their green card eligibility disappear. They will be eligible for a small number of merit points (see below – #7) if they do not get a visa within one year.
  5. The number of family-based visas will be greatly reduced.
  6. The number of employment-based immigrant visas will remain the same as now: 140,000 per year. The goal of the bill is to drastically reduce the numbers of immigrants overall.
  7. Instead of employers filing petitions for prospective immigrant employees, immigrants would apply on their own. Each would be given merit points based primarily on their age, English-language proficiency, education level, and a job offer for “highly-compensated” employment. The higher the salary, the more points you get. Those with “extraordinary ability” will earn points if they have earned Nobel prizes or equivalent, or Olympic medals.
  8. The EB-5 investor visa program would be eliminated. Currently immigrants can be eligible for green cards by investing $500,000 in certain U.S. businesses. Under the new system applicants will get merit points for investing at least $1,350,000 in a business but there will be no separate category for investors.

President Trump can’t make these changes on  his own. For those not familiar with the U.S. system, any changes in law must be passed by the Senate, the House of Representatives, and signed by the President. There’s a great deal of opposition to this plan from Democrats and Republicans for many reasons. Nothing will change overnight.