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Critics say Trump-backed immigration bill will hurt US economy

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Bill introduced by Senators Cotton and Perdue calls for slashing legal immigration by 50 percent over a decade.

President Trump, flanked by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, announces the introduction of the RAISE Act at the White House on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed a Senate bill that would eliminate the so-called Green Card lottery and the employment-based immigration system with a “points-based” system.

The “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-AK, and David Perdue, R-GA, would cut the legal immigration by half in a decade.

According to the text of the bill, the potential immigrants will be screened “based on education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative.”

“This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy,” Trump said at a White House event to announce the bill, where both Cotton and Perdue were present.

In his inaugural State of the Union address, Trump had called for a points-based immigration system, similar to the one used by Canada and Australia.

“This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century, but it will restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens,” Trump added. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”

In the same tone, Cotton said on Wednesday that the proposed legislation would set right the decades of unfairness toward native workers. “For decades our immigration system has been completely divorced from the needs of our economy, and working Americans’ wages have suffered as a result. Our legislation will set things right.” 

Perdue, too, stressed that the new system would be totally skill based. “The RAISE Act will create a skills-based system that is more responsive to the needs of our economy and preserves the quality of jobs available to American workers,” he said.

But a number of Indian American immigrants denounced the move to slash immigration from more than 1 million to about 500,000, annually.

“I totally disagree with the administration’s decision to slash legal immigration by half. It is grave mistake to curb legal immigration in half. If enacted it will reduce and it will have low growth in our economy,” said Frank Islam, an entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Potomac, MD. “It will be bad for our economy.  Immigrants are engine of our economy.  However, we should not get panic on this proposed legislation as it faces dim prospects in the senate. This legislation will have fierce resistance form Democrats and immigration right groups and business leaders.”

Islam, admitting that the immigration reform is the need of the hour, said that there are several jobs in the skilled categories that still need to be filled. He pointed out that immigrants have always been an integral part of America’s success.

“I agree with the administration that we need to reform immigration so that we can attract and retain people who have skills. We need to boost skilled immigration not reduce the level of immigration for skilled workers,” Islam said. “We have a lot of openings that we cannot fill because there are shortage of skilled workers in our country. I agree we need to reform our immigration based on skills I firmly believe that house should pass the Comprehensive Immigration Reform passed by the senate.”

Another Indian American entrepreneur agreed with Islam that the current bill will be detrimental to the economy.

“The move to cut the immigration will be counterproductive,” said Sunil Singh, who owns dozens of Papa John’s Pizza outlets across the Mid-Atlantic region. “The contributions of the immigrants to the US economy are immeasurable.”

Citing his own immigrant story, the entrepreneur told The American Bazaar that he came to the US with just $300; however, by dint of hard work, he now employs 800 people and his business pays more than $3 million in sales tax.

One of the less controversial elements of the RAISE Act is the points-based system, which ensures immigrants of the basis of their skill sets.

Vinson Palathingal, executive director of the Vienna, VA, -based Indo-American Center and a prominent backer of the president, called for such a system in an April 2014 column.

“A new ‘points based,’ meritocratic system for granting green cards directly to two categories of people: the best and the brightest international students in STEM disciplines; and the best and brightest and exceptionally experienced STEM foreign workers,” he wrote. “The ‘points-based’ system should be designed essentially as combination of Standardized Test Scores (SAT, ACT, GRE/GMAT), GPA, university ranking, and teacher recommendations and testimonials. The admissions experts from major US universities should be drafted to help the government in designing and developing this system.”

It is not clear at this point whether the new bill will clear Congress and reach the desk of Trump.

Even though nearly everyone agrees that immigration reform should be a priority for Congress and the administration, it is one of the most divisive issues in Washington.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was stalled the same year it was proposed. If passed, it would have ensured legal status to several undocumented immigrants in the country. However, that legal status would have come for a price. Under the proposed legislation, the eligible immigrants would have paid their due taxes for all years that they worked and a fine of a couple of thousand dollars.

Apart from ensuring funds for the government and regular payment of taxes, it would have brought several workers from the shadows to the mainstream.

A popular bipartisan bill, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act — also known as “the Gang of Eight” bill — cleared the Senate in 2013, but stalled in the House.

(This story has been updated.)

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Trump calls for switching to ‘merit-based immigration system’, but mum on H-1B (March 1, 2017)

It is time to phase out H-1B visas and introduce a “points-based” green card system (April 20, 2017)