What Is the 'Build America Visa'? Donald Trump Reveals New Merit-Based Immigration Plan

Trump Gives Immigration Speech
President Donald Trump unveiled his new plan to markedly change the legal immigration system in the United States, on May 16. Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump unveiled his new plan to markedly change the legal immigration system in the United States during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The plan would limit the number of people who can receive visas through family ties or by seeking asylum and instead create merit-based guidelines based on age, valuable skills, offers of employment, education, wealth, "ideas" to create jobs and ability to learn English.

The president criticized the current system, saying it was based on "random chance," and needed stricter guidelines. "We want immigrants coming in; we cherish the open door," Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. "But a big proportion of those immigrants should come in through merit and skill."

Under the new system, which the president has dubbed the "Build America Visa," potential recipients will be judged on a point system. "You will get more points for being a younger worker, meaning you will contribute more to our social safety net. You will get more points for having a valuable skill and offer of employment and advanced education or a plan to create jobs," Trump said.

Priority entrance will be given to high wage-earners, said the president, "ensuring we never undercut American labor." The president also said that immigrants would have to be financially self-sufficient in order to "protect benefits from American citizens." Trump has long argued that migrants present a strain on the U.S. welfare system, but temporary migrants are ineligible for most welfare benefits. Immigrants are actually much less likely to use the welfare system than native-born Americans.

The president would also institute an assimilation program. "To promote integration, assimilation and national unity, future immigrants will be required to learn English and to pass a civics exam prior to admission," he said.

But the president's plan, created by senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, is unlikely to make splashes on Capitol Hill. The president admitted that the plan would be unlikely to pass the House until at least 2020, when he said it could "flip" back to a Republican majority, but Republicans have also indicated that they're not on board.

"I don't see that the will is there to do it," West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore-Capito, a Republican, told CNN. "I commend the White House and the President for what I think is going to end up to be sort of a broad outline of things that are important, but I'm unfortunately pessimistic as to what the future holds. I just think both sides are going to have a hard time getting together on this."

Senator Susan Collins expressed concern that the plan did not address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and Senator Chuck Grassley said that while he admires the plan, he doesn't think it will pass the Republican-majority Senate.

Hard-line anti-immigration groups like the Center for Immigration Studies criticized the plan for not going far enough. "The fact that it does not even call for a modest reduction in total immigration, but instead offsets decreases with increases in 'skills-based' immigration, is very concerning," wrote Mark Krikorian, the center's executive director, in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also made it clear that she did not support the plan and called it "condescending." During her weekly press conference, Pelosi said that merit shouldn't be used as a policy description. "They say family is without merit—are they saying most of the people that come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don't have an engineering degree?" she said.