Understanding Merit-Based Immigration and How to Earn Points Under Trump’s New US Immigration Plan
If the proposed bill under the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is passed, a merit-based visa system will be created after five years wherein an alien will be awarded a green card after a holistic assessment of his/her education, work history, skills, knowledge of English, community service, family ties to America, business activities, and the country he/she belongs to. The system will start granting 120,000 visas per year and increase to 250,000 per year on the basis of demand.
During the first four fiscal years after the bill is passed, merit-based visa numbers will supplement EB-3 visa numbers so that the backlog of third-preference employment-based requests can be cleared. In year five, merit-based visa numbers will be opened to candidates without any pending or approved requests in the employment-based or the family-based category.
Visa allocation and availability
The merit-based system will have Tier 1 for highly-skilled workers and Tier 2 for medium- to low-skilled workers. After year 5, half the visas will be allocated to the tiers each year. Visas from the previous year would also be distributed between the two tiers proportionately.
Tier 1 slots cater to jobs that need a lot of preparation to perform.
Tier 2 slots are for jobs that need average or less preparation to perform.
This terminology has been modeled on the O*Net OnLine Help Job Zones.
There will be 5% more visas available than the last year if the national unemployment rate stays at or below 8.5% AND if less than 75% of the available visa demand in a fiscal year is met by merit-based visas.
There will be no increase in the number of available visas if the national unemployment rate becomes greater than 8.5% OR the number of visas available met 75% or more of the demand in the merit-based category.
Such merit-based immigrant visas will cost $500.
The points system
An alien will earn points based on his/her education, family ties to America, work experience, and other factors. Green cards will be awarded to aliens with the highest overall score in a particular year.
In this category, a maximum of 100 points can be obtained. Points are awarded based on the following factors:
a) Education—A PhD holder gets 15 points, a Master’s degree holder gets 10 points, and a Bachelor’s degree holder gets 5 points. However, a PhD holder will not get additional points for his/her Master’s degree and Bachelor’s degree.
b) Employment—For every year that an alien has been legally employed in America in a O*Net Job Zone 5 category, he/she will get 3 points, And for O*Net Job Zone 4 category, he/she will get 2 points.
One can get a maximum of 20 points via employment. So, 20 points will be awarded to an alien who has worked for 10 years in the Job Zone 5 category as well as one who has worked the same number of years in the Job Zone 4 category.
Job Zone 5 occupations require significant preparation and a Doctorate, a Master’s, a Medical, or a Professional degree. E.g. Sociologists, Biochemist, Surgeons, Materials Scientists, Biophysicists, Dentists, Biologists, Neurologists, Mathematicians, Anthropologists, Astronomers, Physicists, and Family & General Practitioners.
Job Zone 4 occupations require considerable preparation and at least a Bachelor’s degree. E.g. Electrical engineer, Software Developer, Chemists, Computer Programmers, Biochemical Engineers, Logistics Engineers, and Accountants.
c) Employment w.r.t. Education—An alien working in America or with a job offer from America in his/her field of education gets 10 points for a Job Zone 5 occupation and 8 points for a Job Zone 4 occupation.
d) Entrepreneurship—Alien entrepreneurs who employ at least 2 people in Job Zone 5 or 4 occupations get 10 points.
e) Employment in a High-Demand Job—Aliens who work in a high-demand job in America or have an offer for such a job get 10 points. These are different from those awarded for the years of employment.
In Tier 1, “high-demand occupation” is defined as any of the five most petitioned occupations in H1 visas in the previous fiscal year. E.g. In the financial year 2012, the most petitioned H1 jobs were programmer analyst, project manager, computer programmer, systems analyst, and software engineer.
f) Community involvement—Aliens with significant civic contributions may get 2 points.
g) English knowledge—Aliens with a score of 80 and above in TOEFL or a similar English test will get 10 points.
h) Siblings and Married Children Over 31 years—Siblings of American citizens and married children over 31 years of age cannot get family-based immigration visas any more. However, they will get 10 points.
i) Age—Aliens aged 18-24 years will get 8 points, 25-32 years will get 6 points, 33-37 years will get 4 points. No points will be awarded for people over 37 years.
Since it is unlikely (but not impossible) that PhD holders will earn their degree before 25 years, the maximum possible points to be earned is 98.
j) Country of origin—5 points will be given to aliens whose original country has sent less than 50,000 legal, permanent residents to America over the last 5 years.
The Diversity visa category will be stopped. However, people who hail from countries that are eligible under the current diversity visa category will get points.
One can earn a maximum of 100 points in this category. Points are given based on the following factors:
a) Employment—A maximum of 20 points can be earned. 2 points are given for every year of employment in America. Employment for more than 10 years will not be considered.
b) Special Employment—10 points will be awarded to aliens who have full-time jobs or offers of such jobs in America in zone 1, zone 2, or zone 3 occupations.
High-demand tier 2 occupations are defined as the 5 most petitioned for registered positions in the W visa program.
Job zone 3 occupations require moderate preparation and an associate’s degree or a vocational school or related degree. E.g. File clerks, Radiologic Technologists, Acute Care Nurses, Chemical Technicians, Computer Operators, and Dental Hygienists.
Job zone 2 occupations require some preparation and a high school diploma. E.g. Data Entry Keyers, Restaurant cooks, Insurance claims clerks, Telemarketers, Sheet Metal Workers, Roofers, and Butchers.
Job zone 1 occupations require little to no preparation and may need a high school diploma or a GED. E.g. Cashiers, Meat Packers, Waitresses, Janitors, Dishwashers, Farmworkers, and Fast food cooks.
c) Caregiver employment—10 points may be awarded to primary caregiver aliens.
d) Exceptional employment record—Aliens will get 10 points for their employment record if they have got promotions, have grown from a lower job zone to a higher job zone, have been employed long-term with an employer, have been given pay hikes, and have undergone safety training.
e) Civic involvement—2 points may be awarded to aliens with significant community service.
f) English knowledge—As determined by the Secretary of Education, aliens with a proficiency in English will get 10 points and those with a knowledge of English will get 5 points.
g) Siblings and Married Children over 31—Siblings of American citizens and married children over 31 years are not eligible for family-based immigrant visas any more. However, they will get 10 points.
h) Age—Aliens will get different points based on their ages. 18-24 years = 8 points; 25-32 years = 6 points; 33-37 years = 4 points; above 37 years = no points.
i) Country of origin—Aliens belonging to a country that has sent less than 50,000 legal, permanent residents to America for the last 5 years get 5 points. The diversity visa category will be stopped and aliens currently eligible for this category will get points.
If this bill is passed, long visa backlogs will be eliminated and highly-qualified people who do not meet other criteria of employment-based visas will be able to immigrate to America. It is not known whether the bill will be passed or will require revisions, but it is helpful to know what is politically needed in the current scenario. Also, even if the bill were to be passed soon, new programs will be implemented only 5 years later.