By Gregg Re, John Roberts
Published May 15, 2019
The White House is set to unveil a sweeping new plan that would radically transform the makeup of immigrants in the United States, ending the visa lottery program and implementing a comprehensive merit-based admissions procedure, three senior administration officials told Fox News on Wednesday.
The move would more than quadruple the number of immigrants admitted because of their work-related skills, while dramatically slashing the number of immigrants admitted because of family ties. Currently, approximately 12 percent of immigrants are admitted based on employment and skills, while 66 percent are admitted based on family connections.
Those percentages, under the new plan, would shift to 57 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Ten percent of immigrants would be admitted on humanitarian or other grounds, but the plan would end the visa lottery program.
In its place: a new "Build America Visa" program that would recognize "extraordinary talent" and "people with professional and specialized vocations," including exceptional students, Fox News has learned.
Potential immigrants would be assessed using a point-based system, accounting for factors including age, English proficiency, whether each candidate has an offer of employment above a certain wage threshold, and educational and vocational certifications. Pledges to invest and create jobs also would be considered.
The average yearly wage of legal immigrants currently is approximately $43,000. The officials said immigrants admitted based on education and skills would have an average income of $126,000, and they would expect the average yearly wage of all immigrants to rise to roughly $96,000.
The Trump administration also said it has considered other similar immigration systems. When Canada implemented a merit-based system, it largely resulted in a “pooling” of immigrants from East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. To avoid pooling, the White House said it would add points to immigrant candidates from under-represented countries, but it would not impose caps on certain countries.
President Trump is set to deliver a major immigration address Thursday afternoon, Fox News has learned, amid previous reports that Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working to finalize a plan that focuses on border security and changes to the legal immigration system.
"I do believe that the president's position on immigration has been maybe defined by his opponents by what he's against as opposed to what he's for," Kushner said at the Time 100 Summit in New York City last month. "What I've done is, I've tried to put together a very detailed proposal for him."
Kushner presented the plan to senators on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters after the presentation that White House officials seemed "well on their way" to winning consensus for a plan that would unite Republicans on the contentious issue. But, he added, "Whether it will or not, I don't know."
Graham unveiled his own proposal Wednesday for revamping laws that affect Central American migrants seeking asylum to enter the U.S. Growing numbers of them have been trying to get asylum status in recent years.
Democrats want an easing of restrictions that have prevented many from obtaining citizenship, including for hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They've been allowed to temporarily live and work in the U.S. under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump has tried to terminate.
Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked Kushner about protections for DACA recipients but received no specific answer, Republicans said.
"They cannot be excluded from any immigration package," Collins said afterward.
One Republican official briefed on Tuesday's meeting said Kushner provided few details and said senators did not seem overly impressed with the plan. Another said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not offer his views of the proposal. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private session.
However, Kushner won a positive reception for his proposal last week from about a dozen of the Senate's more conservative Republicans.
Fox News has been told the reason for the push for a skill-based system would be to attract the best and brightest talent, protect American wages, increase the gross domestic product (GDP), and preserve humanitarian values.
Other than adopting a merit-based admissions procedure, the plan also would update the asylum admissions procedure and expedite the adjudication process for people with legitimate asylum claims, the sources told Fox News.
The push has been discussed, broadly, for nearly two years. White House adviser Stephen Miller, in a viral and contentious 2017 exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta, defended a merit-based immigration system proposed by Republican lawmakers.
"When it comes to immigration, the Statue of Liberty says 'give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free,'" Acosta told Miller, kicking off the testy episode. "It doesn't say anything about speaking English or learning to be a computer programmer. Aren't you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country, if you are telling them you have to speak English. Can't people learn how to speak English when they get here?"
Miller responded: "Right now it is a requirement to be naturalized that you have to speak English, so the notion that speaking English wouldn't be part of your immigration system would be very ahistorical.
"I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world," Miller added. "The poem you are referring to was added later. It is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty."
Calling Acosta's remarks "shockingly ahistorical," Miller went on to offer something of a history lesson.
"Let's talk about this," Miller said. "In 1970, when we let in 300,000 people a year, was that violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land? In the 1990s, when it was half a million per year, was it violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land? Tell me what years meet Jim Acosta's definition of the Statue of Liberty poem law of the land."
Fox News' Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.