Raise act
Raise act (John Disney/ ALM)

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act (S. 1720), introduced in August by Sens. David Perdue, R-Georgia, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, would eliminate the immigration system as we know it and replace it with a points-based system. President Donald Trump supports this effort to significantly reduce levels of legal immigration by drastically cutting some family-based categories and substituting the existing employment-based system with a point system. This was one of the major priorities in the president’s election campaign. A companion bill, known as the Immigration in the National Interest Act of 2017 (H.R. 3775), was introduced in the House in September by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Just how will these changes proposed by the new administration affect Georgia businesses?

Point-based immigration systems are immigration management tools used to score who is eligible to enter the host country. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand use variations of points systems. The point systems are usually based on a list of characteristics that a country values, such as education, occupation, work experience, language ability and age. After determining all desired characteristics and point values, a country sets the total number of points that a person needs before being allowed to enter the host country. Our current employment-based immigration system allows employers to select the workers they need, subject to some arcane government regulations. For a lot of the employment-based immigrant visas (also referred to as green cards), employers are required to test the market to prove that they cannot find U.S. workers who are willing, able and available to fill the advertised position. The new point system would allocate points based on a combination of factors, including age, education, English language proficiency, extraordinary achievement, a job offer and intention to invest in the United States.

 

Under the RAISE Act, a maximum of 140,000 immigrant visas would be issued each fiscal year based on the point system. Spouses and minor children of the principal applicant would count against the 140,000 cap, just like under the current system. An individual would be able to apply to be placed in the eligible applicant pool if he or she has accrued 30 points, also referred to as the “pass mark.” Under the Immigration in the National Interest Act, an applicant would have to accrue 20 points. The point distribution prioritizes individuals who are young, educated in the United States, trained in STEM fields, highly-compensated and fluent in English. Both bills would eliminate all family-based immigration categories except for spouses and minor children (under the age of 18) of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The proposed legislation focuses on highly-skilled workers and seems to move away from our current demand-driven model. It largely ignores the needs of U.S. employers to fill certain jobs at a time when they find it difficult to find qualified U.S. workers. This could lead to a disconnect between the talent and the available jobs. It remains to be seen whether a selective migration strategy will increase national economic competitiveness.

Atlanta has a growing tech community and a great need for highly-skilled workers. FWD.us held an event at Atlanta Tech Village in August focusing on immigration on behalf of U.S. tech companies. FWD.us is a bipartisan organization started by key leaders in the tech community to promote policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy, starting with commonsense immigration reform. FWD.us also pointed out that the RAISE Act limits legal immigration while ignoring the inadequacies of the H-1B program, which is designed to bring specialty workers to the U.S. for a limited period of time.

There has to be a better way to attract talent to American shores with a more efficient immigration system. A 2007 Senate bill known as The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Reform Act of 2007, introduced a point system to allocate immigrant visas, but the bill never gained the necessary traction for serious consideration. What if we decentralize employment-based immigration and leave more power to the individual states to make decisions on how to apportion the immigrant work visas? States should be able to come up with criteria for attracting an immigrant workforce under the umbrella of a national screening system to ensure clean background checks. There would have to be an upper limit on the number of visas dispatched, but it could account for a better distribution based on local demand and need.

It appears that immigration issues are definitely a priority for the Trump administration. I hope to see a healthy debate to improve our outdated immigration system. Unfortunately, this will not happen fast, as we have a deeply divided and polarized Congress that has failed to pass any meaningful legislation in connection with immigration in the recent past. In the meantime, Georgia employers and their in-house counsel should understand how future policies may impact their workforce, while identifying workers now who will need visa sponsorship to remain employed in their company.