Immigration Matters - 2017


Proposed RAISE Act Would Decrease Legal Immigration by Half

In August, Georgia Senator David Perdue and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton joined President Donald Trump to propose the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or the RAISE Act, an immigration bill designed to curb legal immigration by implementing a merit-based points system. Cotton and Perdue pointed to two goals for the U.S. immigration system: protecting the wages of working Americans and promoting economic growth by welcoming highly-educated and talented individuals through legal immigration.

As written, the bill proposes the following changes:
• Eliminates the Diversity Visa program;
• Caps the number of refugees granted green cards to 50,000 per year;
• Eliminates the family-based visa preference categories for extended family and adult family members of U.S. residents (maintains categories for spouses and minor children);
• Creates a renewable temporary visa for elderly parents who need to come to the U.S. for caretaking purposes;
• Allows immigrants pending under family-sponsored categories who are scheduled to enter in to the U.S. within a year of the RAISE Act's implementation to maintain the ability to enter within that year;
• Creates an immigration points system based on education, English language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative; and
• Requires sponsors of immigrants seeking naturalization to reimburse the federal government for any benefits used by the immigrant during the 5-year period the alien was admitted for permanent residence.

We will address a few of the main aspects of the bill to share what the implications could be on pending immigration cases if the RAISE Act were to be implemented.

Eliminating Family-Based Preference Categories for Extended & Adult Family Members
Currently family-based visa preferences for certain countries have backlogs of 10 to 15 years. The RAISE Act would eliminate these categories, even for those individuals who may have been pending for over a decade. While the proposal grandfathers in applicants who are scheduled to have current priority dates within a year, all other individuals would need to reapply through the points system. These individuals would receive a 2-point addition to their new applications, but would do little to mitigate the distress of being removed from the waiting list after being otherwise qualified under the existing immigration system.
Eliminating adult family members from the visa preference category could cause elderly parents of U.S. citizens to be left unattended in other countries. In an attempt to alleviate some of these challenges, the proposed bill would create a temporary visa for elderly parents who may need to come to the United States to be with their children for caretaking purposes. These individuals would not be eligible for any Federal, State, or local public benefits or a work-authorized status. The adult children must also prove that they will pay for health insurance coverage during their parents' stay in the U.S.

Replacing the Employment-Based Visa Categories with a Points System
The Senators pointed to falling wages for low-skilled American workers and placed the blame on the family-based immigration system, stating that the RAISE Act would end “chain migration" while “giving priority to the most skilled immigrants from around the world." The new merit-based system would be based on point categories, where applicants “earn points based on education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement and entrepreneurial initiative." If applicants reach the 30-point minimum threshold, they would be entered into a pool wherein USCIS would allow the highest scorers to file applications and undergo security vetting. Some opponents of the bill have argued that this structure would restrict visas to only the most elite individuals from other countries and would eliminate the opportunity for individuals of lesser incomes to build a better life in the U.S.

Will the RAISE Act Result in a Strong Economy?
Americans of all political persuasions have called for immigration reform in recent years, but determining the specific policy changes to accomplish those goals has been the subject of much debate. The RAISE Act promises to “raise working wages and boost American competitiveness" to grow a strong economy. Some experts have argued that while the points-based system would be easier to understand due to the clear guidelines, it would actually be more difficult for some U.S. companies to hire qualified individuals because of the increased barriers based on age or English proficiency. A 46-year-old engineer with valuable project experience may be highly qualified for a position in the U.S., but would only receive 2 points based on age, while a young professional would receive a 10-point boost if between the ages of 26 and 30.

The bill also decreases legal immigration by 41 percent in the first year, with a 50 percent reduction by year ten. In Senator Cotton's remarks, he stated that:

“we lose out on the very best talent coming to our country – the most ultra, high-skilled immigrants who can come here and bring their entrepreneurial spirit and their innovative capabilities and make a higher wage, create new jobs for other Americans and new immigrants, speak English, and contribute to our economy, and stand on their own two feet, and pay taxes, and not receive welfare, and not drive down wages for working-class Americans."

Currently, there are several employment-based visas available to encourage these types of immigrants to come to the U.S., such as the EB-1 for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors or researchers; or multinational executives and managers. The second preference or EB-2 visa is reserved for individuals with advanced degrees or with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business. The RAISE Act would replace these and other permanent worker visa categories with the new points system. The number of visas would also remain at 140,000 per year, which some economists say is not enough to significantly boost the United States' economy or its global competitiveness. Critics of the bill have argued that many proponents of the bill may not have been born in the U.S. had the merit-based system been in place at the time their ancestors came to the country as immigrants.
As with any proposed change in immigration law, it is important to stay up to date with any renewal or filing deadlines so your valid status does not lapse. Follow this column in Saathee every month for updates on the proposed regulations and the legal environment.

Courtesy of Challa Law. More details at www.ChallaLaw.com