Tuesday, August 22, 2017

RAISE Act -- The Immigration Reform We Need?

By Michelle Alonzo

On August 2, 2017, Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, introduced a revised version of the February 2017 bill referred to as the RAISE Act,  Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act.   The bill seeks to cut legal immigration to the U.S.  by nearly half within a decade by eliminating specific visa programs and creating a vetting system that promises to prefer highly-skilled immigrants. The design is being touted as akin to the merit-based systems of Canada and Australia. 


What you need to know about the Bill:

  • Eliminates the Diversity Visa Program that currently grants 50,000 immigrant visas from countries with low rates of U.S. immigration

  • Would retain only two categories for family-based sponsorship – spouses and unmarried minor children (under 18) of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents.  Under our current system, U.S. citizens are permitted to petition adult children and siblings and Lawful Permanent Residents can petition their unmarried adult children.  For petition purposes, the age limit for “child” is 21, not 18 as proposed in this bill.

  • Limit U.S. acceptance of refugees to 50,000.  For reference, last year the U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees.

  • Creates a new non-immigrant visa for parents of adult U.S. citizens (21 years or older) so they can legally live in the U.S. and receive medical care.  The new “W” visa is valid for 5 years, does not accord work authorization, and requires full financial support and health coverage at no cost to the W nonimmigrant.

  • Replaces the current employment-based immigration categories with a point system that rewards higher education, English proficiency, and certain types of high achievement such as Nobel Prize or Olympic medals.

President Trump gave his emphatic support of the bill and even tweeted about it: “I campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers & taxpayers.”  While the President’s position is clear, not all Republicans are voicing their outright support.  For example, during a media call, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn explained, “I don’t think it’s ready for a vote” and then went on to say, “It is useful to engage people, to get them to start thinking about ‘should our immigration system be based purely on family relationship or on the skills, talents, and contributions immigrants can make to our country?’”

One noteworthy analysis of the bill came from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.  The report projects that the RAISE Act would result in 4.6 billion lost jobs by 2040 and ultimately lead to less economic growth.  The report does however conclude, “While in the short run the RAISE Act leads to a small boost in per capita GDP, in the long run per capita GDP dips slightly.  Gains in average wages are positive but small.”

In response, the White House criticized the study’s methodological approach, and later provided a statement to CNN Money explaining,  “The estimates show that the job ‘losses’ under their RAISE Act model are far smaller than the reduction of foreign workers – effectively meaning a net increase in available jobs for Americans.  The passage of the RAISE Act would raise wages and increase economic opportunity for Americans who have been left behind under the failed policies of past administrations.”

The support is not there for this piece of proposed legislation to go beyond the press room, fanfare, and social media frenzy.  Nevertheless, this bill has fueled the continued conversation and self-reflection about how this country (built by immigrants) values immigrants, both high-skilled and low-skilled.  The RAISE Act ultimately may not be the solution for immigration reform, but it is promoting the discussion required for reform to reach fruition.


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