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Trump Wants to Admit Immigrants Based on Job Skills


FILE - US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) applaud as US President Donald J. Trump (C) arrives to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo)

President Donald Trump wants to change United States immigration policy by tying admission to job skills.

In his recent speech to Congress, Trump said changing the way America decides who can immigrate can help the economy.

“It's a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon.”

Trump said such a system is used successfully in Canada and Australia. Basing immigration on job skills is sometimes called a “merit-based” system. Under the current system, immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans by agreeing to work for lower pay, he said.

It would be a major change in U.S. policy, which now gives a preference to spouses, children and parents of American citizens. In 2014, family-based immigrants made up 64 percent of all new legal permanent residents in the United States, reports the Migration Policy Institute.

Marie Price, an immigration expert at George Washington University, said if the U.S. moves to a merit-based immigration system, it needs to do so carefully.

She noted that in Canada admission is based largely on a point system giving higher scores to people with special skills and advanced degrees. But she said many of those admitted ended up driving taxis or delivering food because they could not find jobs to meet their education skills. In some cases, professional licenses from other countries were not accepted in Canada.

Since then, the point system has been changed so that people who can show they have job offers in Canada are given preference, said Sharyn Aiken of Queens University Law School in Canada. In addition, Canada looks at who can fill a range of jobs for which there are shortages of workers – such as child care, not just those requiring advanced college degrees, Aiken said.

A new U.S. immigration bill

Senator Tom Cotton is a Republican from Arkansas. He has proposed a bill that would move the United States to the merit-based system proposed by Trump. His proposal would also reduce legal immigration by half -- from about one million a year to about 500,000.

Under Cotton’s bill, people with legal status in the U.S. could continue to get a preference for their children and spouses. But their parents will not get a preference.

Cotton said many Americans believe the current immigration system helps businesses and not people. “These Americans see cheap immigrant labor as a way to enrich the wealthy while creating a near permanent underclass for whom the American dream is always just out of reach,” he said.

Senator Tom Cotton walking through the U.S. Capitol in January.
Senator Tom Cotton walking through the U.S. Capitol in January.

William Stock is president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

He disputes Cotton’s argument that the U.S. is allowing too many immigrants into the United States. Stock said the U.S. admits about one million legal immigrants a year, a lower percentage of America’s population than at any time in history.

Stock also said it would be unfair to change to a merit based system for new immigrants without allowing those who have already applied for family members. He said some have been waiting 15 years or longer for a decision on their relatives.

Stock added people calling for a merit-based immigration system should know that a promise of better wages in America will be not enough to get people to fill job openings in America. Many people will not want to move to the United States without their families -- making continuation of a family preference system important, he said.

Trump has also followed through with his campaign promises of extreme vetting for immigrants and of building a wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

principle - n. a basic truth or theory

ought v. used to say or suggest what should be done

strain – v. something that is very difficult to deal with and that causes harm or trouble

preference n. an advantage that is given to some people or things and not to others

score n. points awarded for some achievement

advanced adj. beyond the basic level

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