Would Skilled Immigration Increase With RAISE Act?

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By Laura D. Francis

A bill to implement President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration system may not achieve its stated goals, some stakeholders say, and in fact could discourage skilled workers instead of attracting them.

There could be a “large number” of workers who’ve been waiting for their green cards for decades but who lose their immigration status because they don’t have enough points under the proposed new system, Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 9.

But backers of the measure say the proposed system would streamline the employment-based immigration process, making it easier and faster for skilled workers to get a coveted green card.

This latest version of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act ( S. 1720) was introduced Aug. 2 by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) with the backing of the White House. It would eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which awards green cards to immigrants from countries that are underrepresented in other visa categories. It would also make cuts to visas for certain family members and refugees.

The bill would convert the current employment-based green card system into one that’s points-based, with points awarded for factors such as education, a high-paying job offer, English language proficiency, and proximity of the applicant’s age to prime working years.

Anyone who was scheduled to receive a green card within the next year would get one, but everyone else in line would have to reapply.

That means that a large number of immigrants who’ve been waiting for a green card for years, or even decades, would lose their place. Many immigrants—particularly those from India and China—have to wait a long time for their green cards because of the overall cap on visas and per-country caps.

Pluses, Minuses for Temporary Visa Holders

Instead of living and working in the U.S. while waiting for a green card to become available, workers waiting for a green card would risk losing their immigration status and possibly have to leave the country if their applications aren’t successful.

However, the relative ease of application may attract more high-caliber performers, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 9.

“The point system might actually enable the more skilled people on H-1Bs to get their green cards faster,” Krikorian said. “It’s possible for an H-1B worker to rack up enough points to be selected for a green card before his or her initial H-1B visa even expires, he said.

Bill Doesn’t Address H-1Bs

A large portion of employment-based green cards awarded last year went to workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas, whose employers sponsored them for the visas, Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 9. H-1Bs are temporary visas for specialty occupation workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Currently, workers can keep extending their H-1B status as long as they’re in the green card line. But “there’s nothing in the text” of the RAISE Act that addresses temporary workers who want a green card, Gelatt said.

But Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 9 that the RAISE Act wouldn’t change any of the rules for H-1B extensions.

The measure would do away with per-country caps and so would get rid of “many of the backlogs that necessitate lengthy and multiple renewal periods for H1Bs,” Rabbitt said.

Business Uncertainty Predicted

Gelatt however said there would be no guarantee that any individual worker would even get a green card with the points-based system. That creates a great deal of uncertainty for the businesses that employ workers on H-1B visas and want to employ them more permanently.

Under the current system, employers generally know what they need to do to successfully sponsor a worker for a green card, Gelatt said. But it would be impossible to know ahead of time whether a worker had enough points—or the right factors—to make the cut when the government compared him or her to other green card applicants, she said.

Most of the H-1B workers who would get bumped out of the current green card line would “barely” make the RAISE Act’s points cutoff, Nowrasteh said. And they’d likely go “right back into another line,” he said.

Under the RAISE Act, immigrants who apply unsuccessfully for a green card would have to keep reapplying year after year.

Nowrasteh said he wouldn’t be surprised if the new line became a century long, “at which point it’s a joke.”

It is likely that there will be workers who don’t get a green card right away, and they’d either have to remain in the U.S. as unauthorized immigrants or leave the country, said Krikorian, whose organization supports lower immigration levels. But it’s also likely that the Homeland Security Department will modify its H-1B regulations before the RAISE Act would go into effect.

How the legislation would apply to H-1B workers seeking green cards would largely depend on the new H-1B regulations, Krikorian said.

Not Much Change to Employment Visa System

Aside from the potential impact on those in line for a green card, the RAISE Act’s points-based system would be “very similar” to the current allocation of employment-based visas, Krikorian said. Only 5,000 of the 140,000 employment-based visas available each year are reserved for lower-skilled workers, so eliminating those visas won’t have a big effect, he said.

It’s the cuts to the family-based and diversity visa programs, which tend to attract lower-skilled workers, that would likely have a bigger impact on employment, Krikorian said. Even then, “employers probably wouldn’t notice a difference until after a few years,” he said.

More immediate labor market impacts would come from enforcement, in terms of both deporting undocumented immigrants and going after employers that violate guest-worker program rules, Krikorian said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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