• Trump Wants Free Green Cards for Every College Grad

    July 3, 2024 // 16 Comments »

    In a move which both is self-defeating and which exposes the fundamental problem with America’s immigration system, Donald Trump proposed “automatically” giving green cards to foreign nationals who graduate from a U.S. college.

    A Trump spokesperson clarified the offer to include both two-year and junior colleges, and to include every foreign student except those who are “communists, radical Islamists, Hamas supporters, America haters, and public charges.” Trump said this was another “Day One” plan for him. The goal is to “to keep the most skilled graduates who can make significant contributions to America.” Currently foreign national college grads have to either leave the U.S. after graduation, work for two years as “practical trainees” and then depart, or apply for a hard-to-get work visa/change of status.

    The plan of course is self-defeating on its face. Trump, like most people who read it, thinks his plan will scoop up the PRC MIT A.I. PhD with the 4.0 GPA who wants to work for NVidia, forgetting America’s college system includes pay-for-play schools, visa mills, aimed directly at foreigners who just want a student visa to allow them to work in the U.S., at whatever job. Trump also forgets perhaps his own college days, which must have included a kid who just barely got by and graduated with a C- average in Medieval Music Theory. Not much demand for that, from American or foreign grads. Once again, in order to get the baby America is drinking the bathwater, too.

    The concept of a merit-based system in the U.S. is not new. Trump 45 flirted with the idea but never moved to implement it. Even Hillary Clinton proposed a plan to link college grads to green cards. Since 1965 the American immigration system has been tied to the concept of family unification, with little interest paid to anything merit-based. The core problem with the family reunification system is the primary qualification to immigrate legally is simply that family tie. So America gets the drunk brother alongside the nuclear physicist sister. It’s a crap shoot. There is no connection to America’s economic needs. You get the nuclear physicists from Stanford but you also get the drunk modern art appreciation majors from Podunk U. Things work similarly at the border, where America gets whomever survives the Darwinian slog through Mexico. The family reunification system is a legal hangover, as would be Trump’s plan to gift each college grad with a green card.

    The American family unification system, with its small number of merit-based visas tagging along (mostly in the H-1B category) is near unique in the industrialized world. Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand use primarily a merit system based on “points.” Based on national needs, an applicant with no relatives in Canada will accrue points based on education (Canada awards 135 points for a Master’s, only 30 for a high school diploma), language ability (extra points toward immigration up north if you are fluent in English and French), and job skills. But you may not need a master’s in computer technology for Canada: they’ll take you if you’re a quantum engineer, but they’ll also take you if you are a tar sands miner willing to live five years in the unsettled west. The key is tying merit-based points to the nation’s economic needs.

    The U.S. is stingy with the merit-based visas it does offer. Out of a total legal immigrant pool of about one million, the annual cap for the 2023 fiscal year was 65,000 skilled worker visas, plus only an additional 20,000 visas for foreign professionals with a master’s degree or doctorate from a U.S. institution. However, not all H-1B visas are subject to this cap. For example, up to 6,800 visas are set aside each year for the H-1B program under the U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore free trade agreements. Something special about skilled people in Chile compared to, whatever, Columbia? Back to that baby and his bathwater.

    Through the end of the 19th century, America essentially had no immigration law. The country was huge, land was available for the taking, and the need for unskilled workers seemed bottomless. The waves of Germans, Irish, Jews, and Italians came from every dump across Europe and beyond. They entered an America where New York City was a center of light manufacturing and the source of more than half of all ready-made clothing, and the vast Midwest was blanketed with farms and steel plants hungry for workers. This system gave way as the first real immigration laws, targeting the Chinese, who were no longer needed to build the railways out west. Following WWI, Italians and eastern European Jews, who were considered “inferior,” were banned. Racism played a significant role, but it dovetailed more than coincidentally with an economy that was shrinking (ultimately, the Great Depression) and demanding more skilled workers.

    The years following WWII saw a massive change in immigration law. In the booming post-war economy, it was believed there was room for everyone again, and old racial wrongs were righted by removing national quotas and emphasizing family unification. Most post-war immigrants, unlike those of the great waves of the 19th and early 20th centuries, were the relatives of earlier immigrants. Little attention was paid to who these people were, what education and skills they had and, most significantly, what the needs of the American economy were in comparison. This is the system largely in place today.

    But what if we can do better, a lot better, for the needs of the 21st century?

    The monetary reasons are there, what Trump is aiming for. Immigrants and their children founded nearly half of the Fortune 500 companies. These include 5 of the top 12: NVidia, founded by a Taiwan national with a Master’s from Stanford; Apple; founded by the son of a Syrian, no degree; Google, cofounded by a Russian immigrant, also with an M.A. from Stanford; Amazon, founded by the son of a Cuban immigrant with a degree from Princeton; and Costco, founded by the son of Canadian immigrants (San Diego City College) whose family emigrated from Romania. These companies alone posted a combined revenue of $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2023, more than the gross domestic product of many nations. And immigrants are about 80 percent more likely to start a company than U.S.-born citizens.

    And that’s not to say someone else, in this instance the UK, hasn’t already tried the idea and screwed it up by being too generous. Britain has a scheme which allows most college grads to stay on for two years and work toward residency (as does in fact the U.S., it’s called “Optional Practical Training” with its own arcane set of regulations, available to almost all foreign students.)

    The UK Graduate Route, which is a post-study visa, allows graduates to stay and work in the UK for up to two years after finalizing their studies. The government estimates that this visa has attracted many migrants to the UK, with them often misusing their benefits. More than 40 percent of people coming to the country for employment purposes in 2023 came from India or Nigeria. Talks for new rules follow plans to ban British universities from accepting certain postgraduates, in an effort to reduce net migration in the UK, which is highly driven by international students.

    So there are lessons learned out there. Meanwhile, let’s not make the same mistake with college grads we made with relatives of earlier immigrants; this time let us separate the baby from the bathwater and get rid of the less valuable part. Instead of handing out green cards willy-nilly with each diploma, subject grads to a merit-based system, with points awarded to skills/majors in demand, accredited schools that rank well nationally, high GPAs, as well as English ability and proven entrepreneurial skills. Trump is close to right in singling out foreign-born college grads. We need only to tweak the system he proposes to pick out the very best America deserves.

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump