Donald Trump's planned immigration policy focuses on retaining merit; Indians on edge as family-centric selection may drop sharply

Tara Kartha
According to Forbes, some 4 million family and work-related green card applicants will have to reapply, even if they have been waiting for years and Indians are among the highest number in this category.

New immigration policy is in the works in the Trump administration, with enough in it to worry just about everyone, both within and outside the country, Indians included. If it goes through, the policy will constitute the biggest overhaul of the immigration system since 1990. The essence of the policy is that it prioritises "skills over family".

In simple words, it aims to ensure that skilled and highly qualified people are better able to get a place in America than the 'chain immigration' process that allows entry, based on a close family connection already resident in the US. That's all very well on paper, and when delivering a speech as President Donald Trump did at the Rose Garden on 16 May. But there's likely to be many a slip, between the speech and its the final execution, if it ever happens.

Trump's main points were first, that nearly 87 percent of 1.1 million of immigrants who get residency every year, get it on the basis of a relative (qualified or otherwise) or random chance, which could be humanitarian relief or other reasons. It's only a bare 11-13 percent who get in on the basis of merit or skill. Under the new plan, the last category would rise to about 60 percent, and the family-centric selection would reduce precipitously. There's a reason for that change which is not flattering to the American public. It is in the relatively low skilled category that Americans are facing unemployment. It is that category which is getting in by the policy of random selection.

His second point should make many an Indian parent ecstatic. The President observes that under the previous system "If somebody graduates top of their class from the best college, sorry, go back to your country. We want to keep them here €¦€¦We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance." So for those who are slaving to get their kids through college in the US, this could be a boost. Brilliant kids get to stay. As do brilliant workers. So the home country loses, but then they were losers anyway.

His third point is that the policy would also prioritise the immediate family of newly minted Americans. Instead of waiting in line with the others, they go "Right to the front of the line, where they should be." It's sticky, but it could be that this will win him the new and ethnic Indian vote.

There are more than four million people of Asian Indian origin in the US, and they form a solid vote bank. In the 2016 election, just about 16 percent voted for Trump. But that number has been climbing as the administration began wooing the community, appointing seven ethnic Indians to top posts. If the perception gains ground that Republicans would allow more Indians (by implication) in, then support could be significantly larger in the next round of elections.

But there's always a downside to the best fairy tales.

The first shocker, according to Forbes is that some 4 million family and work related green card applicants will have to reapply, even if they have been waiting for years. Indians, are among the highest number in this category. Data from the US Immigration last year put Indians awaiting their green card at 3,06,601. China comes second with about 6,700. There is already legislation in Congress sponsored by tech firms including Google, Microsoft and IBM to do away with the country categories and the quotas under them.

The bill has its critics, including those who complain that it would favour tech companies and reduce priority for health care, where again Indians are well established.

Conservatives will grumble that the new plan will not reduce immigration since the number of green cards to be issued remains as it was. Liberals will see that it ignores the DACA issue (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) €" which is the unbelievable tragedy of children smuggled in. Finally, as Rolling Stone reports, the lacklustre presentation in Congress by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and immigration in-charge will likely put Congressmen off the whole idea, when it comes in the form of legislation. The paper also reported some of the more bizarre schemes of the present administration -- like releasing immigrants into cities where Democrats were in power. The mood is still anti-immigrant, in case anyone gets the idea that a new chapter has opened.

The immediate result of this bill is likely to be confusing as waitlisted immigrants scramble to find out what the point system is, and despair at having to start all over again. The deletion of the country quota is however good for India. The existing 7 percent was what slowed down lawful migration to a trickle. But here's the thing. The main highly qualified applicant may indeed get in, but his chances of getting his or her family €" particularly parents €" is probably zero.

It is unclear whether an eventual green card will lift this block, that is so inherent to the whole policy which is, if you're of no use to the economy, stay at home. Here's an analytical assessment that should provide some relief or dismay depending on where you are in the immigration line. The complex US system has so far prevented the administration from actually putting through most of its immigration policies. That includes a Congress that still prioritises a human approach to refugees and asylum cases and the courts which have been conservative in ruling on the issue.

As of now, it seems the policy is simply aimed at the elections. While it toils through the legislative process, the incumbent will score points among ethnic groups hopeful of entering what still is, the most desirable work destination in the world. Only the ballot will tell whether they are buying that story.

Also See: Donald Trump to replace green cards with ‘Build America’ visa, in bid to increase quota for highly-skilled workers to 57%

Donald Trump's new merit-based immigration system to benefit Indian professionals, skilled workers

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