The RAISE Act Falls Short

On August 2, 2017, Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, with the support of President Trump, introduced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), which seeks to substantially reform the current U.S. immigration system and replace it with a merits based system that ignores the benefits of family unity and the needs of U.S. employers.

Background

In 2015, approximately 1,051,031 individuals became lawful permanent residents of the United States, with 65% securing their status based on a family relationship (parent, child, spouse or sibling) to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Only 140,000 individuals obtained lawful permanent resident status through employment sponsorship. Employment-based preferences consist of five categories of workers (and their spouses and children): EB-1 (e.g., individuals of extraordinary ability and outstanding professors and researchers); EB-2 (professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability and individuals whose work is in the national interest of the United States); EB-3 (skilled workers or professionals without advanced degrees and unskilled workers); EB-4 (“special” immigrants such as ministers, religious workers, and employees of the U.S. Government abroad); and EB-5 (employment creation immigrants or “investors”).

In addition to eliminating the Diversity Lottery and limiting the number of refugees admitted to the United States to no more than 50,000 per year, the RAISE Act seeks to reduce lawful permanent residency based on family relationships by reducing the number of visas available and restricting the types of familial relationships that would qualify for sponsorship. In addition, the RAISE Act seeks to limit employment based immigration, not by number, but by requiring experience and education that is extremely restrictive.

Family Based Immigration

The RAISE Act would:

  • Eliminate all family-based immigration except for spouses and minor children (under the age of 18 years) of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents could no longer sponsor their parents or siblings for immigrant petitions.
  • Reduce the number of family based immigrants to 88,000 per year.
  • Create a temporary nonimmigrant visa (“W” visa) for parents of U.S. citizens.
    • U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old, residing in the United States and be responsible for the parent’s support while the parent is in the United States
    • Parent will be admitted for a period of 5 years with extension of an additional 5 year period available
    • Parent will not be employment authorized or eligible for any federal, state or local public benefits
    • U.S. citizen must provide evidence that he or she has arranged for the parent’s health insurance coverage, at no cost to the parent, for the duration of the parent’s stay in the United States.

Employment-Based Immigration

The RAISE Act would:

  • Eliminate the current employment-based immigration system and create one that is based on points or merit. The Act would allocate 140,000 immigrant visas based on an individual’s age, education, English proficiency, and offered salary in the United States.
    • Require an offer of employment from a U.S. employer, confirming salary and duties
    • Require proof that the applicant has secured health insurance, either through the U.S. employer or by posting a bond to purchase the health insurance.
  • Age
    • Greater points are allocated for individuals who are between the ages of 22 to 30 years of age. Once individuals are 31 years of age or older, they are allocated fewer points.
  • Education: points are allocated based on the highest educational degree favoring a doctorate degree over a professional degree over a master’s degree over a bachelor’s degree and over a high school degree.
    • Foreign equivalency is acceptable, but higher points are allocated for U.S. degrees.
    • Professional degree includes only a Master’s of Business Administration, Doctor of Jurisprudence or a Doctor of Medicine.
    • Bachelor’s in any field is acceptable however, the master’s degree and doctorate degrees only receive points if they are in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.
    • No points allocated for multiple degrees or for master’s degrees or higher that are not in a STEM field, Business Administration, Law or Medicine.
  • English proficiency
    • Greater points are allocated for individuals who possess a mastery of the English language as determined by an accredited exam such as the TOEFL or IELTS.
  • Extraordinary achievement
    • Points allocated if the individual is a Nobel Laureate or received comparable recognition in the field of scientific or social scientific research.
    • Points allocated if, in the 8 years prior to the submission of an application, the individual earned an individual Olympic medal or “placed first in an international sporting event in which the majority of the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented.”
    • No points allocated for individuals who distinguish themselves in the arts, entertainment, modeling, business, or education.
  • Job Offer
    • Allocate greater points for individuals who are offered a salary that at least 150% (up to and exceeding 300%) of the median household income in the State where the individual will be employed.
  • Investment
    • Points allocated for individuals who invest between $1.35 and 1.80 million and maintain the investment for a period in excess of 1 year.

Conclusion

The type of immigration reform proposed by the RAISE Act is based on the false assumption that the current number of legal immigrants entering the United States harms the economy. In showing support for the Act on August 2nd, President Trump stated, “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.” In making such a statement, however, President Trump seems to be ignoring the fact that many Americans are in fact immigrants who have made enormous contributions to our society. Moreover, our current immigration system has resulted in business development, community improvement and innovation.

The RAISE Act’s points based system ignores the demands of U.S. employers for seasonal and lower-skilled workers upon whom the U.S. economy relies, as well as artists and entertainers. This will result in labor shortages that will force U.S. employers to turn to other options, such as moving their operations abroad, so that they have the labor force their businesses require.

The supporters of the RAISE Act also ignore the failure of other points or merit-based immigration systems. For example, the points based system in Australia and Canada, which President Trump has often lauded as models for U.S. immigration reform have not been successful. The system in Canada has been criticized for forcing highly-skilled immigrants to take low-skilled jobs in new fields because possessing advanced degrees and experience did not guarantee finding a job in their field.

While we agree that the immigration system needs to be reformed, the President should continue to value the ideals that are fundamental to American life – family, economic opportunities, and the abundance of positive benefits that foreign nationals bring to the country, especially in terms of the arts, entertainment, research, science, innovation and entrepreneurship. Immigration reform that can make America greater, balances the priorities of securing employment for U.S. workers along with business success and family unity, as these are not competing interests, nor are they mutually exclusive.

Michael J. Wildes, is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. Mr. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn (1989-1993). Mr. Wildes has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and teaches Business Immigration Law. From 2004 through 2010, Mr. Wildes was also the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey–where he resides. Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. has offices in New York, New Jersey and Florida and Los Angeles by appointment only.  If you would like to contact Michael Wildes please email him at michael@wildeslaw.com and visit the firm’s website at www.wildeslaw.com

About the Author
Michael Wildes is Managing Partner of Wildes & Weinberg, a leading immigration law firm in the U.S. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the US Attorney's Office who has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation. He is Adjunct Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, where he teaches immigration law and serves as personal immigration lawyer to Melania Trump, Pele and Jean-Georges.
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