Expert Analysis Opinion | Hiba Anver
On Aug. 2, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his support for the Reform American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, a bill introduced by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga. The act replaces the current employer-sponsored green card process with a points system that awards points based on education, English proficiency, age and salary. An immigrant must earn at least 30 points in order to qualify for a U.S. green card.
The purported goal is to limit unskilled immigrants from taking jobs, driving down wages, burdening the economy, and exploiting the welfare system. This bill seems to speak directly to those individuals that believe that companies are overlooking American workers and opting instead to offer the same jobs to unskilled immigrants at a lower salary. Under this system, unskilled immigrants earning a low salary cannot accept permanent employment because they will not qualify for a green card.
Along with its flawed logic (restricting immigration will not help wage stagnation), misinformation (new immigrants do not immediately collect welfare), and arguable favoritism (abolishing the diversity lottery but rewarding English proficiency) there are gaping holes in terms of how points are awarded. Immigrants with a variety of essential skills will slip through the cracks in a way that is contrary to the act’s own goals. For example: public school teachers.
The U.S. is experiencing major teacher shortages. These shortages have been reported in every state. The shortages are so critical that some states have expanded emergency permits to allow the hiring of untrained teachers. Many school districts have sponsored immigration for foreign-born teachers to recruit qualified candidates to fill the void. These foreign-born teachers have played a critical role in American schools. Some states, like California, would experience a “supply disaster” if unable to rely on foreign-born teachers. However, awarding points on salary will make it extremely difficult for public school teachers to qualify for a green card under the proposed system.
Example 1: Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is experiencing a teacher shortage. DISD has turned to foreign-born teachers to fill the open positions. The median household income in Texas is estimated to be $53,207. To earn the minimum five points in the salary category, a foreign-born elementary school teacher must earn 150 percent of the median household income, or $79,810.50. The average salary for elementary school teachers in Dallas is $57,410. The result: zero points.
Let’s say the teacher in this example scored well in the other categories. He is 26 years old (10 points), has a U.S. bachelor’s degree (six points) and aced the English proficiency exam (12 points). The total is 28 points — two points shy of qualifying for a green card. RAISE Act supporters may argue that a more educated teacher would have earned the extra two points needed to qualify, which means the system works. After all, immigrants earn seven points for a foreign master’s degree in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field and eight points for a U.S. master’s degree in a STEM field. However, what if he has a U.S. master’s degree, but majored in education or early childhood professions? What if, instead of a master’s degree, he obtained multiple teaching certifications? Despite being significantly qualified, this teacher won’t qualify for a green card.
Example 2: The median household income in Los Angeles County is estimated to be $64,300. To earn the minimum five points, a foreign-born elementary school teacher must earn 150 percent of the median household income, or $96,450. The average wage for an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles County is $75,240. An informal Google search reveals a much lower number. The result: zero points.
Let’s say this teacher scored well in other categories. This time, the foreign-born teacher is between the ages of 26 and 30, (10 points), has a U.S. master’s degree in math (eight points) and aced the English proficiency exam (12 points). She has earned the 30 points needed to qualify. But, what happens if she is 24 and this is her first job out of grad school? What happens if, by the time she is earning a qualifying salary, she is over the age of 31? The result is the loss of a qualified teacher in a school district that already faces a “supply disaster.”
Salary, age, education and English proficiency do not determine how capable someone is of contributing to our economy, or society. Granted, the current employer-sponsored green card system divides immigrants based on level of education, but it doesn’t restrict eligibility based on education. Granted, the current employer-sponsored green card requires that immigrants earn a certain minimum salary. If the salary is too low, then it’s the job offer that doesn’t qualify under the current rules, not the immigrant. If we implement a system that restricts people based on these criteria, then more and more valuable members of society will continue to slip through the cracks.
Hiba Anver is lead attorney in the immigrant visa practice group at Erickson Immigration Groupin Arlington, Virginia. She focuses on immigrant visa petitions in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories, PERM/Labor Certifications and related U.S. Department of Labor issues.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.