Trump's new immigration plan

The White House unveils a new plan to further apply pressure on illegal immigrants. How likely is the program to be passed into law and does it address the concerns of President Trump's electoral base?

Background

American business leaders have consistently lobbied for more liberal immigration policies that would allow them to hire from abroad more freely. The H-1B visa allows US employers to hire foreigners in specialist roles, temporarily. An H-1B visa is typically issued for a period of three years, which is then extendable for up to six years. The H-1B program is geared towards feeding exceptional performers into the green card program. The US currently grants 1.1 million immigrants green cards. This permanent residency permit allows lifetime authorisation to live and work in the US while affording a clear, five-year path to citizenship.

Immigration policy was a signature issue of President Trump's presidential campaign. Many of Mr Trump's electoral base has voiced strong opinions on immigration, resulting in the harsh policies by the administration. These include bans on travel from several Muslim-majority countries and separating children from their parents on the US-Mexico border.

The Trump administration embraced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in August 2017. The RAISE Act seeks to reduce levels of legal immigration to the United States by halving the number of green cards issued.

Analysis

President Trump unveiled a new immigration plan that would shake-up the incumbent US system by placing a higher priority on skilled immigrants. The current plan favours those who already have family in the country. Mr Trump said, "We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages, and safety of American workers first." Senior Trump advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is believed to be the primary architect of the immigration plan.

The plan seeks to reduce the importance of the lottery system, which is how many immigrants gain admission. Under the new policy, 57% of issued green cards would be given on merit, rather than at the current rate of 12%. Immigrants would have to be financially self-sufficient, be proficient in English with proof and pass a civics exam. The diversity visa lottery, which awards green cards to citizens of countries with historically low immigration to the US, will be scrapped. The plan seemingly abandons the RAISE Act, refocusing the administration's efforts on attracting the right people without reducing the number of green cards issued.

President Trump reiterated his immigration objectives while being mindful of the position of his core supporters. These include stopping illegal immigration and building a wall on the US-Mexico border. Mr Trump demanded a "border security trust fund" that would be used to pay for infrastructure upgrades that will curb the flow of contrabands into the US. The fund would be collected from border crossing fees.

Mr Trump continued his harsh rhetoric on issues such as illegal immigration, low skilled labour and the flow of illicit items into the US. Simultaneously, with the proposed reform on legal immigration, Mr Trump looks to foster economic development by attracting the most capable people. Mr Trump said, "We discriminated against genius. We discriminated against brilliance. We won't anymore." He also added that he wanted more foreign university students to stay in the US after graduating, working on higher skilled jobs.

Business leaders have welcomed the new plan, saying it would permit them to hire freely. The National Association of Manufacturers said the group was pleased with the plan because it focuses on economic realities, "increasing employment-based immigration and welcoming those with skills to match workforce demands."

However, the White House plan is expected to meet with the opposition before it can be implemented into law. Control of US Congress is divided; Democrats control the House of Representatives, while Republicans hold the Senate. Any legislation must pass both Houses before being signed into law by the President. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives, said that the White House plan, "repackaged the worst of its past failed immigration plans," and was likely to be "dead on arrival." President Trump has previously used executive action to implement change in the country's immigration system.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the new White House immigration plan is unlikely to succeed in the near term given the division of US Congress between Republicans and Democrats. Immigration reform has for decades resulted in a deadlock between the Democrats and the Republican. We believe Mr Trump may attempt to force his plan by using his executive powers and this is likely to be met with legal roadblocks.

We also feel that the White House plan remains mostly aligned to the dictates of Mr Trump's core supporters. It is strong on illegal immigration and the proliferation of contraband into the US while seeking to attract English-speaking, highly-qualified foreigners.