The RAISE Act - Legal Immigration Faces Challenges

In early August, President Trump voiced support for a bill introduced earlier this year by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) to effectively overhaul the current immigration system. The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act has similarities to other points-based immigration systems, such as those in Canada, Australia, or the newly implemented system in China. The RAISE Act is "merit-based," focusing heavily on advanced-level, skills-based employment and education (with financial investments also a consideration), and a significant reduction in family-based qualifiers.

Under the proposed system, points would be given for criteria such as age, education level, English proficiency, the existence of a job offer and the level of salary offered, and large-sum investment prospects of $1.35 million or more. Other select criteria include having received a Nobel Prize, Olympic medal, or other major international award. Family derivatives would be limited to spouses and minor children, eliminating green card options for extended family members and adult children. Importantly, applicants currently in line for a green card under the categories eliminated by the RAISE Act would only be grandfathered in if entry into the U.S. is scheduled to occur within one year of enactment of the RAISE Act. While the bill makes provision for a renewable nonimmigrant visa option (W visa) for dependent parents/adult children of an adult U.S. citizen, the complete parameters of such a visa are not clear, but employment authorization would not likely be permitted.

The bill is silent regarding the current numerical cap on employment-based green cards, leaving them at 140,000 per year, as well as nonimmigrant work visas such as the H-1B or L categories. Presumably, these visa holders would be subject to the same points system in order to obtain a green card. The bill would also eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery which allocates 50,000 visas for people from countries with historically low rates of immigration. Other programs at stake are the EB-5 immigrant investor program, special immigrant religious workers program, and the physician national interest waiver green card program. The bill has the effect of cutting in half current legal immigration numbers in a relatively short period of time, estimated to be over a period of 10 years. The RAISE Act is not expected to gain traction in Congress, but it underscores the current administration's focus on transforming the established immigration system.

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