Canadian Law Group

President Trump Announces Comprehensive Immigration Reform

On May 16, 2019, President Donald Trump revealed his comprehensive immigration reform proposal. The proposal introduces a stronger border security package and a shift to a ‘merit-based’ immigration system, prioritizing high-skilled workers and creating a points-based system for evaluating permanent resident applications (Green Cards). In his remarks, President Trump noted that America’s last major overhaul of U.S. legal admissions policy was 54 years ago.

President Trump stated that currently only a small fraction of vehicles, people and goods coming across are being scanned. Investing in technology will allow us to “scan 100 percent of everything coming through, curbing the flow of drugs and contraband, while speeding up legal trade and commerce.” Trump announced that the Wall, already under construction, should be close to 400 miles long by the end of next year. The proposal also creates a permanent and self-sustaining border security Trust Fund to allow for upgrades when necessary. This Trust Fund will be bankrolled by the revenues generated at the border crossing itself. 

The similarity of Trump’s plans to the Canadian immigration system is striking. Currently, the U.S. immigration system allows citizens and green card holders to sponsor their family members for immigration.  However, it does not create a clear path for top talent (unlike many other countries, like Canada). Trump wants to prioritize highly skilled workers and their immediate families. Canada, notably, has a robust and competitive immigration system prioritizing top talent using a points-based system at the provincial (similar to state) and Federal levels.  We find, in Canada, successful Provincial Nominee Programs and the Express Entry program, as examples. There are additional competitive streams for skilled workers in Canada, depending on their experience and education levels while Regional Pilots Programs (ex. The Atlantic Immigration Program) aim to encourage and increase immigration to certain regions for skilled workers and recent international graduates. President Trump suggested the U.S. create an “easy-to-navigate points-based selection system,” akin to the Canadian model. 

President Trump stated that because of the broken rules in the USA, the annual green card flow is mostly low-wage and low-skilled, pitting newcomers against the most vulnerable Americans for jobs. Trump would like to increase the proportion of highly skilled worker immigration from its current 12 percent to 57 percent (or higher) — bringing the country more in line with countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and making America globally competitive. Mr. Trump made it clear that at the same time, the policy would prioritize the immediate family of new Americans, spouses and children, which would go right to the front of the line. Again, something Canada has been doing for well over a decade.

President Trump’s proposal would not change the number of green cards allocated annually although it would introduce sweeping changes establishing universal criteria for admission. The current green card categories would be replaced with a new visa called the “Build America” visa which evaluates candidates on a points-based system. President Trump stated in his address that priority and higher points would be given to younger workers, valuable skills, offers of employment, advanced education as well as plans to create jobs. Higher wage workers would also be prioritized to ensure new comers are not undercutting American labor.

President Trump’s proposal also introduces sweeping changes to the U.S. asylum system, at the same time as Canada dismantles the “designated country of origin” (DCO) list. Trump’s plan, in his own words, seeks to prioritize “legitimate asylum-seekers” over “those lodging frivolous claims.” Trump stated asylum abuse is putting a strain on social services such as the public school system, hospitals and shelters using funds that would be better appropriated towards elderly veterans, at-risk youth, Americans in poverty, and those in genuine need of protection. 

The new US plan would include the following facets: closing loopholes in Federal Law ‘making it clear’ gang members and criminals are inadmissible, while deporting those that are already here. Future immigrants will also be required to learn English and pass a civics exam prior to admission to the U.S. to promote assimilation, integration and national unity.

Is Trump reading the blue print of the Canadian immigration model? Perhaps. The Canadian Law Group, located in the USA but practicing Canadian law exclusively, is well placed to compare the models of these two countries. We continue to advise foreign nationals daily on which path to take, and to remind readers that most nationalities are free to pursue Canadian AND a U.S. path to immigration at the same time. We often refer to this strategy as a "wise back up plan.”

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