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Trump proposes overhauling legal immigration

The changes to the United States immigration system announced by President Trump on Thursday amount to a sweeping overhaul of the legal immigration process, intended to prioritize highly skilled workers over immigrants with family-based ties.

But the details of the plan the White House previewed, which have not yet been codified into a bill, were vague.

The proposal does not seek to change the number of green cards allocated each year (approximately 1.1 million) but rather the process by which they are granted and to whom.

The U.S. system offers four main pathways to obtaining legal permanent residency (green cards): family ties, employment, humanitarian protection and the diversity lottery.

Currently, immigrants with family living in the United States have priority and represent the largest number of green card recipients. Highly skilled workers with employer sponsorships make up just 12 percent of newly granted legal permanent residents each year. Trump’s proposal seeks to radically change those proportions, by giving nearly 60 percent of annual green card grants to immigrants with special skills or offers of employment.

Under his administration’s proposed merit-based immigration system, Trump explained, admission to the United States will be determined by points, with more points going to younger workers, people with valuable skills and advanced education, as well as immigrants with their own businesses who can create more jobs for Americans.

“We lose people who want to start companies,” Trump lamented.

He did not mention that last year, his administration killed an Obama-era initiative to allow foreign-born entrepreneurs (many of whom were educated here) create new businesses in the United States.

“We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance,” he said.

Trump’s characterization of the existing system as based on “random chance” is misleading. Contrary to his claim that 66 percent of legal immigrants are “admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States and it doesn’t really matter who that relative is,” 44 percent of green cards go to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, while around 20 percent go to more distant relatives of citizens or legal permanent residents.

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