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Merit-Based Immigration Under Attack

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File

Merit-based immigration is clearly the future of American policy, yet there are some politicians who are pushing ideas that are inconsistent with smart immigration ideas.  President Donald J. Trump and conservatives have pushed for smart ideas to reform the current system and to reorient the immigration law to provide work and investment visas that will be based on merit and an ability to expand the U.S. economy in the long term.


President Donald J. Trump has been a loud proponent of converting the current system to a merit-based system that will allow in immigrants who can help expand the U.S. economy.  The White House website has a page dedicated to immigration that states, “the United States must adopt an immigration system that serves the national interest. To restore the rule of law and secure our border, President Trump is committed to constructing a border wall and ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants. To protect American workers, the President supports ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system. These reforms will advance the safety and prosperity of all Americans while helping new citizens assimilate and flourish.”  One of the merit-based programs that is under attack right now is the EB-5 investor visa program.

President Barack Obama issued a number of last-minute regulations and one he dropped at the desk of President Trump in Obama’s last days in office dealt with EB-5 visas.  Obama’s idea was to hike the amount needed for an investor visa while changing the targeted employment areas in a way that makes the program smaller and less valuable.  The idea behind the program is to encourage foreign investment in American infrastructure and to create American jobs by giving a visa to individuals who invest millions in the U.S. Obama proposed midnight regulation was an attempt to hurt this merit-based immigration program.


A number of conservative groups have come out against the Obama proposed changes to the program.  The American Action Forum put out a study in January of 2018 that found, “EB-5 immigrants have invested at least $20 billion in the U.S. economy since 2008, with over $5 billion invested in 2017 alone” and the program has “created over 174,000 jobs, which equates to approximately 16 jobs per investor.” They cite the fact that this program offers up to 10,000 investor visas every year for the purposes of stimulating the U.S. economy while creating new jobs.

Another conservative group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) posted a coalition letter last year signed by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, a representative of CEI and three other people who made the case “we write in opposition to the Obama midnight regulation on the employment-based (EB-5) visa program.  By limiting the EB-5 program, this Obama rule will negatively impact the U.S. economy, and the creation of American jobs.”  They cite a 2017 Department of Commerce report that found “the EB-5 program has increased investment in the U.S. by $5.8 billion in 2012 and 2013.”  Those investments will go away if some politicians have their way in limiting the program for the purposes of ending it.

On March 8, 2019, a number of business-oriented groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Home Builders and American Hotel & Lodging Association signed a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to argue, “regulations proposed during the Obama Administration are currently being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Our organizations are concerned that these rules will fall far short in achieving the reforms necessary to improve and sustain the EB-5 program over the long term.” They argue that this is a better issue for legislators in Congress than using regulations to dramatically change a program Congress set up to incentivize investment in America.


A merit-based system is the future of immigration law. Clearly there are significant problems with the current system and Congress seems incapable of having a reasonable debate on reforms to make it better.  A regulation that attacks the only program that both rewards investment in U.S. infrastructure projects while creating jobs for Americans is a big mistake.  The Trump Administration should not do the dirty work of the Obama Administration and should scrap this terrible regulatory harm to the EB-5 investor visa program.

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