While Donald Trump’s rhetoric is often read as anti-immigrant, the Build America program reveals a new level of nuance: Going by his words, at least, Trump isn’t against immigration per se—but he wants potential immigrants to be those most likely to add value to their new communities.
Historically, permanent residency in the United States has been governed under the Immigration and Nationality Act 1952. “Green cards,” or permanent residency cards, were issued to a class of immigrant who were legally allowed to reside in the US on a permanent basis and were eligible for a whole range of other benefits that were otherwise the exclusive domain of citizens (apart from the right to vote and stand for elections). As things currently stand, there are three main categories for Green Card eligibility: Family-sponsored, Employment-based, and the Diversity quota. The first two categories are fairly self-explanatory: Family-sponsored Green Cards can be obtained by immediate relatives of citizens and permanent residents, while Employment-based Green Cards are offered to skilled foreign workers and scientists. The EB-5 Employment category is interesting—it allows foreign nationals investing $1 million or more to set up a business that employs at least 10 Americans to directly obtain permanent residency.
The Build America visa program doesn’t put the latter permanent residency category in contention. Rather, it seeks to review the first category—family-sponsored immigration and the third category—the Diversity quota, also called the Green Card Lottery. The Diversity quota has its roots in the US’ history as a country of immigrants. While people from around the world wanted to seek opportunities in the US, 19th and 20th-century laws limited immigration to a handful of European countries in practice. The Diversity quota seeks to address this by allowing 50,000 people into the country as permanent residents from “low-admission” states—countries with low immigration rates to the US. The Diversity quota has received its share of criticism. After a 2002 shooting in Los Angeles by a beneficiary of the Diversity quota, the security implications of granting permanent residency to foreign nationals through a lottery system became part of the conversation.
Trump has said a number of unpleasant things about immigrants—calling them “rapists” and “criminals,” among other things. However, the proposed changes under the Build America visa program indicate that he’s not averse to immigration per se, but rather to the immigration of foreign nationals who don’t necessarily make a tangible economic contribution through their unique skills and abilities. The plan here is to replace existing Green Card eligibility criteria with a points-based system where family connections add points, along with economic factors like age, job skills, and investment plans. According to the White House, this would take away some of the arbitrariness from the process as it stands today and ensures that those who do immigrate to the US bring unique skills, talents, and job creation opportunities for the benefit of all Americans.
Build America is particularly relevant for India—almost all immigrants from the country are young, skilled workers, exactly the target demographic for the new program. We’re looking forward to seeing whether the Build America program will be implemented and, if so, what impact it’ll have on Indian immigration to the US.
Arjun Krishna Lal is a Penguin-published author and journalist