Trump’s RAISE Act Proposes Merit-Based Immigration System

What is a merit-based green card system?

A merit-based green card system uses a point system to determine who can immigrate to and live in a country. Many countries award points based on job, career or language skills. Most merit-based systems focus on strengthening the host country’s economy.

Along that line, in February of 2017, U.S. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue introduced the RAISE Act, Senate Bill 354. RAISE is an acronym that stands for Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment. It is part of a larger plan to make the U.S. immigration system more merit-based.

Under the current U.S. system, candidates who want to immigrate to the U.S. have four options:

  1. A family member can sponsor them.
  2. They can seek asylum.
  3. They may qualify under a diversity lottery.
  4. A U.S. employer can hire them.

The RAISE Act specifically addresses, reduces and limits the first three options—family sponsorships, asylum seekers, and the green card lottery.

How will the new system change U.S. immigration?

The RAISE Act proposes four significant changes to the U.S. immigration system:

1. It would limit family green cards. Under the current process, extended family members—like adult siblings, for example—are eligible for a family-based green card. The RAISE Act, however, would limit family sponsorship to immediate family members:

  • spouses and
  • children under age 21.

There is a new provision for a five-year “nonimmigrant alien W-visa” for parents of adult U.S. citizens.

2. It would eliminate the green card lottery. In the past, each year, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program granted green cards to 50,000 randomly selected individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. The RAISE Act would completely eliminate the diversity immigrant visa category.

3. It would set a flat annual limit on refugees and asylum seekers. The RAISE Act caps the number of immigrants eligible for refugee status to just 50,000 each fiscal year, less than half earlier numbers.

4. It would decrease legal immigration by more than 50 percent over 10 years. Under the current system, the Immigration and Nationality Act “sets an annual minimum family-sponsored preference limit of 226,000.” It also sets per-country limits. The RAISE Act, however,

  • cuts the family-sponsored preference to just 88,000,
  • allows for annual decreases to further cut the 88,000 and
  • exempts 75 percent of all family-sponsored immigration from country limits.

When will merit-based immigration go into effect?

Currently, merit-based immigration is an idea, a proposal, but not yet law. The RAISE Act was introduced in the Senate in February of 2017 and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. President Trump has voiced his support of the act, but for it to become law, it would have to gain committee approval as well as approval on the Senate floor by at least 60 votes. Many changes can happen during debates, and many bills die in committee or on the floor. In 2007, for example, merit-based immigration reform failed to pass the Senate.

Common Questions

1. What does the current proposed merit-based point system look like?

Right now, this is only a proposal, but the current model awards points according to a number of factors. Candidates would have to qualify for at least 30 points to be eligible for a green card. Key factors include

  • education;
  • age;
  • ability to speak, read and write English;
  • anticipated salary from a job offer;
  • investments; and
  • achievements.

2. Does the RAISE Act ban immigrants from collecting welfare or other public assistance?

According to, “current federal law already bars most new immigrants from most federal public assistance programs for five years.” In many cases, children, pregnant women, and refugees are now and would continue to be exceptions and would receive public assistance like food stamps and Medicaid.

3. Isn’t there a bill similar to the RAISE Act in the House of Representatives?

House Resolution 392—the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017—is a separate proposal and considerably different from the RAISE Act. H.R. 392 would

  • eliminate per-country limits for employment-based immigration and
  • raise per-country limits for family-based immigration.

H.R. 392 was referred first to the House Committee on the Judiciary in January of 2017 and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security one month later. It still remains merely a proposal, not a law.