What Will the RAISE Act Do? Who Will Be Affected?
President Trump’s endorsement of the RAISE Act has (predictably) kicked off a media firestorm over immigration reform.
The Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) would fundamentally transform America’s immigration system by reducing immigration by up to 50%, and moving the nation to a points-based system that would prioritize economic immigrants.
This isn’t terribly controversial in-and-of itself: even in swing states voters support the RAISE Act by a ratio of 3:1. But, it is worth discussing the details of the Act, and exploring how it will change the immigration system.
What does the RAISE Act do? Who will be affected?
The RAISE Act Will Reduce Family-Sponsored Immigrants from 226,000 to 88,000 Annually
To begin with, who’s entering America right now? In 2015, just over 1 million immigrants were granted permanent residence status (get a green card); half of them were already living in the US.
As you can see in the adjacent chart, over half gained their status because of family connections, rather than an objective assessment.
In fact, 44% of all immigrants to the US were granted residency because they were immediate relatives of immigrants already here (spouses, brothers & sisters, mothers & fathers, children can be sponsored without limitation), while a further 20% were more distant relatives, or friends.
Broadly, this is what’s known as chain-migration: where once one immigrant gets his foot in the door, many more follow (on average 15).
The RAISE Act would cut this number of immigrants in half, mostly by eliminating some of the current categories for family-sponsored immigration. For example, the RAISE Act would eliminate all family sponsorship beyond spouses and minor children (and the age for minors would be reduced from 21 to 18), and would lower the cap on family green cards from 226,000 to 88,000.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, this would impact immigrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, China, India, and Vietnam the most, since they are (by far) the most likely to sponsor family.
In fact, over 70% of all green cards from India and Vietnam are given for familiar, rather than economic, reasons.
The RAISE Act Will Institute A Points-Based Immigration System, Prioritizing Economic Immigrants
The RAISE Act will prioritize economic immigrants by switching to a points-based system, although it will not increase the number of employer-sponsored green cards (capped at 140,000).
Right now employment-based immigration can happen in one of five ways, as explained by the MPI:
(1) “persons of extraordinary ability” who can document high-level accomplishments in their field, a tough standard for most workers to meet, particularly early in their careers; (2) professionals with advanced graduate degrees or exceptional ability; (3) professionals, skilled workers (those with at least a two-year college degree), and unskilled workers (for whom just 5,000 green cards are allocated yearly); (4) certain special immigrants who meet U.S. national interests; and (5) immigrant investors, who invest at least $500,000.
The RAISE Act replaces this schemata with one which awards points for meeting certain criteria, which include:
- Having a relatively high-paying job offer, with more points for a higher salary (maximum of 13 points)
- High English test scores (maximum of 12 points)
- Age, with those closest to age 25 earning the most points (maximum of 10 points)
- Educational attainment, with more points for degrees earned in the United States, and for advanced degrees in a STEM field (maximum of 13 points)
- Investing at least $1.35 million in the United States (maximum of 12 points)
- Extraordinary achievement: earning a Nobel Prize or equivalent, or being an Olympic-caliber athlete (maximum of 25 points)
- Having been in line for an eliminated visa category (2 points).
The people with the most cumulative points would be allowed to applied for green cards, the rest would need to apply a gain.
Importantly, the bill would eliminate per-country caps for employment-based categories as well (right now no country can make up more than 7% of immigrants for employment reasons). This means that the idea of “diversity for diversity’s sake” is tossed out the window, in favor of a more meritorious immigration policy.
Simply put: the RAISE Act will ensure that only the best and brightest will enter America.
Potential Problems With the RAISE Act
So now that you know what the RAISE Act does, and who’s affected, are there any problems with it? Of course, there are always issues with pieces of legislation.
There are two critical economic problems with the RAISE Act that should be considered.
First, the Act places too much emphasis on university education, as opposed to practical skills and trades. While there is no question that engineers are valuable, the fact remains that America has a massive shortage of skilled laborers. Much of this shortage could, and should be addressed by simply training more Americans.
However, after decades of neglect and atrophy, American industry may need an influx of skilled tradesmen to get the ball rolling, as it were.
Second, too much of a good thing can be bad; by importing more and more skilled professionals, America has little incentive to train them ourselves. This is the main reason why we train the same number of physicians as we did 40 years ago. Immigration is causing systemic atrophy, which should be avoided.
But, on the whole, the RAISE Act is a brilliant piece of legislation that should be adopted as fast as possible, both for social and economic reasons.