Trump Administration Announces Plan for Immigration Reform

In an announcement on Thursday, May 16, 2019, President Trump unveiled an outline of his new legislative plan to modernize the nation’s immigration framework, promising to “establish[] a new legal immigration system that protects American wages, promotes American values, and attracts the best and brightest from all around the world.”1 In introducing the plan, President Trump announced, “[w]e are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages, and safety of American workers first.”2

In addition to emphasizing border security, the new plan proposes overhauling the current system for legal permanent immigration, “replacing existing green card categories with a new visa, the Build America visa.”3 While leaving the net level of annual lawful permanent residence grants unchanged, the proposed framework would prioritize “high-skilled” workers, expanding grants of employment-based immigrant petitions and likely reducing or eliminating immigrant visas awarded to family-based, diversity, or humanitarian-based immigrants.4 President Trump has proposed to change the employment-based share of the total 1.1 million green cards issued every year from twelve (12) percent to fifty-seven (57) percent or higher in order to render the system more “merit-based.”5

Specifically, the Trump Administration hopes to accomplish the goal of increasing “highly skilled” immigration by implementing an “easy-to-navigate points-based selection system” that would allow applicants for immigrant visas to accumulate points based on a number of factors, including age, skills, offers of employment, advanced education, higher wages or plans for job creation, provided that they can demonstrate English proficiency and pass a civics exam.6 President Trump has stated that the proposed system seeks to decrease “random selection,” referencing lawful permanent residence status grants obtained through family sponsorships, the diversity lottery, and humanitarian relief programs.7

The plan, which has not yet been released in legislative form, instead seeks to shift the current system towards employment and skills-based petitions, reducing allocations for family-sponsored immigrant preference categories. In 2017, approximately 12% of immigrants qualified to obtain lawful permanent residence through employment, while approximately 57% qualified based on a family sponsorship, and 4.6% qualified via diversity programs, with an additional 13% qualifying through adjustment from refugee or asylee status.8 The new plan seeks to reverse those statistics, awarding 57% of all lawful permanent residence grants to immigrants based on offers of employment or to those with particular skills through a “points-based” determination that could also take into account age, education, and wages. This reorientation would likely involve reducing family-based immigrant petitions, as well as a reduction or possible elimination of grants awarded through the diversity lottery and visas issued based on humanitarian relief programs.9

While focusing on the merit-based point system that would accord priority to individuals labeled “highly skilled,” the new proposal notably does not address any forms of immigrant relief for temporary or low-skilled workers, nor pathways to lawful status for the unauthorized alien population of 11 million currently in the U.S., which have been major points of interest for both the business community and labor unions. While the legislative trajectory of the immigration plan remains uncertain in Congress, the announcement previews the policy pillars of the Trump Administration’s goals for immigration reform, which will likely continue to focus on border security enhancement, implementation of a merit-based point system for selection of highly-skilled potential immigrants, and an elimination or reduction of family-based, diversity lottery-based, and humanitarian-based immigration.


See Footnotes

* Elizabeth Whiting is an immigration law clerk in Littler’s Miami office.

1 Donald Trump, President of the United States, Briefing: Remarks by President Trump on Modernizing Our Immigration System for a Stronger America, at ¶ 9, White House (May 16, 2019) [hereinafter, Modernizing Our Immigration Systems White House Briefing], available here.

2 Id. at ¶ 6.

3 Id. at ¶ 45.

4 Id. at ¶¶ 28-30.

5 Id. at ¶ 34 (“The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12 percent to 57 percent.”).

6 Id. at ¶ 46. (“You will get more points for being a younger worker, meaning you will contribute more to our social safety net. You will get more points for having a valuable skill, an offer of employment, an advanced education, or a plan to create jobs . . . Priority will also be given to higher-wage workers, ensuring we never undercut American labor.”).

7 Id. at ¶¶ 27-29.

8 Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics, Table 2: Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Major Class of Admission: Fiscal Years 2015 to 2017, DHS (Aug. 2018), available here.

9 Modernizing Our Immigration Systems White House Briefing at ¶ 27.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.