Trump focuses on ‘merit’ over family ties in new US immigration policy

US President Donald Trump

On Thursday, Trump addressed reporters from the White House Rose Garden and announced a "merit-based" immigration plan that will drastically reduce family-based visa applications and replace them with requirements based on education and skill.

President Donald Trump called Thursday for radical immigration reform to favour skilled, English-speaking workers over the poorly educated and shut the door on "frivolous" asylum claimants.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Trump that "successful negotiations could allow American-owned automobile producers to achieve long-term economic viability and increase R&D spending to develop cutting-edge technologies that are critical to the defense industry".

A fact sheet release by the White House on Thursday evening says the president's proposal "will safeguard our homeland by continuing to add to the 400-plus miles of border wall underway in strategic locations" and "will also enable public donations for the wall".

"Our plan includes a sweeping modernization of our dysfunctional legal immigration process", Trump said. "In countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand and others, that number is closer to 60 and even 70 and 75% in some cases", he said.

By leaving the threat of tariffs, Trump's move raises the temperature in European capitals already angered by the imposition of punishing United States duties on steel and aluminum past year.

Factors such as age, English language ability and employment offers would also be taken into account.

"Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit, because they don't have an engineering degree?" she asked.

"The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12 percent to 57 percent, and we'd like to even see if we can go higher", Trump said.

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A group of immigrants from Central American seeking asylum walk along the U.S. -Mexico border fence. A senior administration official, who spoke to reporters Wednesday on the condition that his name not be used, said the proposal is a "good faith effort" meant to unify Republicans and start a discussion. "You know, I think what they want me to do is say, 'well what we'll do is raise taxes, and we'll do this and this and this, ' and then they'll have a news conference - see, Trump wants to raise taxes".

The plan faces an uphill battle in Congress, where efforts to overhaul the immigration system have gone nowhere for three decades amid deeply divided Republicans and Democrats.

As of now, 66% of the immigrants living in the USA were issued a green card on the basis of their family ties whereas only 12% of the immigrants were given green cards because of their skills.

The latest plan was spearheaded by Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller, an adviser known for his hard line on immigration issues. "100% operationally secure. 100%", he said. Prospects for an agreement seem especially bleak as the 2020 elections near, though the plan could give Trump and the GOP a proposal to rally behind, even as Democrats signaled their opposition.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, speaking during her weekly news conference, said she seeks bipartisan immigration reform that includes protections for those under the DACA program - the dreamers.

"I found the announcement today to be short-sighted", said Kamala Harris, the first Indian-origin Senator and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Just before the White House unveiled its immigration proposal, the mood on Capitol Hill was largely one of shrugs.

Democratic support would be needed to advance any legislation through the Republican-led Senate - let alone the Democratic-controlled House.

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