President Donald Trump is championing a new piece of legislation that proposes to change America’s immigration system to give preference to skills than family links, but the fractious nature of the debate over the move suggests that it is far from becoming a law.
Two Republican senators — Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson — and the Democrats have already declared their opposition to the proposed Bill.
RAISE or Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, sponsored by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton, also proposes to cut immigration by 41% in the first year and by 50% by the 10th year. According to the Bill, people with English proficiency will be preferred, and the number of refugees admitted annually will be reduced by half to 50,000. The lottery system to promote diversity in America, which allows people from less represented countries such as Nepal and Ethiopia, will be ended.
The Bill does not propose changes in temporary work visa programmes such as H-1B.
The proposal for skill-based immigration per se could find larger support, including among many Democrats, but the host of allied issues entangled in the American immigration debate makes any forward movement on the issue difficult. “The bottom line is to cut immigration by half a million people, legal immigration, doesn’t make much sense,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Comprising a significant portion of new entrants into the U.S. in the last two decades, Indians have a huge stake in the debate. Also in question is whether the U.S. lawmakers will have the appetite to deal with a minor part of the immigration issue, keeping the controversial heart of the issue, which is the future of estimated 11 million undocumented residents.
There is no authentic numbers available, but community activists estimate that South Asians constitute a significant share in that. A Pew study estimated that in 2014, around 5,00,000 Indians are in American illegally.
Of the one million permanent residency permits, or green cards, issued by the U.S. annually, two third goes for the category of family reunion. Green card allotment has a country-wise cap, which currently is disadvantageous to Indians. “More than 7,00,000 high-skilled immigrant workers from India are in the U.S. today on temporary work visas. These people are working hard every day helping grow our economy, raising their children as Americans right here in our communities,” Congressman Kevin Yoder from Kansas said on the House floor recently.
Another Pew study released last month said the average waiting time for an Indian to obtain a green card in America under employment category is more than 12 years, the longest for any nationality. The reason is that there are several times more Indian applicants than there are green cards every year.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that maintains country-wise list of H-1B visa applications, but not allotments, 21 lakh Indians applied under the programme in the last 11 years. The agency received 34 lakh applications for H-1B in the same period and the second largest cohort of applicants were from China, at 2.96 lakhs.
Some Democratic Senators and rights groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) have said the proposed Bill has racists undertones. “Its provisions reflect the shameful agenda of nativists and white nationalists who fear the growing diversity of our country,” SPLC said in a statement. Lakshmi Sridaran, of SAALT, said: “The draconian use of legislation and executive orders to criminalise and marginalise immigrant communities reveals the inherent xenophobia of this administration.