Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Louisiana unveiled the “RAISE Act,” last week which aims to cut the flow of legal immigrants to the United States in half over a decade. Most coverage of the bill has highlighted the massive cuts to family-based immigration.
In contrast, I was struck by how the new points system was structured to massively cut legal immigration through the employment-based system. The standards are so high, the bill might be better called the “Raise the Drawbridge Act.”
Yes, the bill would reduce the overall number of immigrants to the United States by half, which would have the effect of increasing the proportion of immigrants selected based on what the bill’s proponents call “merit.” But the bar would be raised so high that almost no one could get over it.
The definition of who “merits” immigration according to this bill is so narrow that even Nobel prize winners might not qualify to immigrate.
I know this because I pulled out some of the files from my employment-based immigration practice and applied the bill's standards to real people (though some details are changed to preserve confidentiality).
Under the bill, points are assigned for age, education, offered salary and English ability, and a minimum of 30 points would be required to immigrate. The examples I’m using are of immigrants, already the “best and the brightest” in the world, who met current immigration law standards of “Exceptional Ability” in their respective fields.
The first person I “tested’ works for a U.S. company and was recruited from a European competitor to re-engineer the company’s supply chain. He has improved quality and created American jobs through his work. At 43, he’s an experienced executive, but he has a bachelor’s degree from Europe and his salary is $150,000, so his age gets him only 4 points, his education only 5 points and his salary 8 points. If he can ace a standard test of English, scoring at least in the 80th percentile, that would add 12 points. This successful executive would have 29 points, ineligible to come. He would have remained a European competitor rather than helping the American economy grow.
A professor at a local college who studies police states and how cultures recover and heal after democracy is restored was my second test case. Her Ph.D. is from an American university, but gets her no more than 5 bachelor’s degree education points because the bill only gives additional points for professional degrees or “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees. At 35 years old, she’s able to get 8 points for age, but her English is somewhat accented, so perhaps only 6 points for the English exam, and her modest professor’s salary would leave her with only 19 points total, far short of the 30-point threshold to immigrate.
The third person I tried seemed promising: he was a physicist by training with a STEM Ph.D. from an American school - 13 education points. His English was good – certainly good enough to get at least 10 points. His age was perfect, 30 years old, getting him the maximum 10 points. His $100,000 salary as a software developer is above the median wage, bringing him 5 points. One would assume his 38 points would qualify him to immigrate – but then I remembered his wife, who was waiting to go to graduate school after the couple’s child was older. The “Raise the Drawbridge Act” penalizes immigrants for having less-accomplished spouses by calculating married applicants’ point totals as 70 percent of the individual’s own point total plus 30 percent of their spouse’s point total. His 38 points were reduced to 26.6, and his spouse’s younger age (6 points), bachelor’s degree (5 points), and limited English (0 points) totaled only 11, so she only added 3.3 points to his total, leaving him at 29.9. Not enough.
The definition of who “merits” immigration according to this bill is so narrow that even Nobel prize winners might not qualify to immigrate. Nobel Prize winners only get 25 points toward the minimum immigration threshold of 30 points. In other words, even earning a Nobel Prize is not enough to “merit” immigration under this bill.
A well-designed points system -- thoughtfully applying the Canadian or Australian model, for example, to American labor market needs -- could be a flexible and productive part of an immigration system for the 21st century. As these examples make clear, however, as written, the RAISE Act defines “merit” so narrowly and arbitrarily that there are far fewer immigrants qualified to enter based on their skills and abilities -- raising the drawbridge and harming American prosperity in the process.
William Stock is an attorney in Philadelphia, helping businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals of exceptional ability navigate the complicated US immigration system. He is Immediate Past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, www.aila.org.