US President Donald Trump has endorsed a bill with far-reaching consequences for Indians that would drastically cut immigration to the US while boosting skilled immigration at the cost of extended family members and unskilled labour.
The drastic immigration overhaul proposed by two Republican senators seeks to slash by half the estimated 1 million green cards issued every year by eliminating several categories and introduce a "merit-based" system that would be modelled on the Canadian and Australian immigration programmes, Trump said on Wednesday.
Called Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, the legislation, if passed, would end Green Cards for parents, adult children and brothers and sisters of citizens, a measure that would affect immigration aspirants from India.
For elderly parents of citizens, who would not qualify for Green Cards, the legislation proposes giving them temporary renewable visas. Parents form a significant part of the immigration from India as their children firmly establish themselves in the US.
"The reforms in the RAISE Act will help ensure that newcomers to our wonderful country will be assimilated, will succeed, and will achieve the American Dream," Trump said at the White House where Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue unveiled the bill.
The RAISE Act "replaces our low-skilled system with a new points-based system for receiving a Green Card," he said. "This competitive application process will favour applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy."
While such a system would appear to favour the highly qualified immigrants from India, the specifics - like how it would enable those hold the temporary H1 visas to transition to permanent Green Cards and if the current national quotas that restrict annual immigration from India and most countries to 20,000 would still apply - will have to be examined to gauge the impact on India.
If it succeeds in Congress, this will be the first whole reform of the immigration system since 1964 when what were essentially race-based quotas were done away with, opening the way for Indian immigrants, whose numbers have now swelled to about three million.
The legislation is certain to be opposed by the Democratic Party, which favours a broader pattern of immigration, including legalising illegal entrants into the country.
"The vast majority of those workers -- or those immigrants come here not because of their English-language abilities or their job skills, or their job offer, or their educational attainment," Trump said. "In fact, only 1 in 15 -- only 1 in 15 out of a million new immigrants come here because of their job skills and their ability to succeed in this economy."
Appealing to African Americans, who overwhelmingly favour the Democratic Party, he pitched the reforms as an effort to help minorities in the US, whose employability and wages have declined because of competition from low-skilled immigrants.
The White House said in a statement explaining the bill that since 1979, Americans with only a high school education or less have seen their real hourly wages decline. For those who did not complete, high school the hourly fell by 17 percent.
One of the provisions in the bill is to prevent immigrants from collecting welfare soon after arriving, Trump said.
More than 50 percent of all immigrant households receive welfare benefits, compared to only 30 percent of native households in the US that receive welfare benefits, the White House said.