President Trump proposes 'merit-based' immigration policy

President Trump proposes 'merit-based' immigration policy

Officials from industries with workforce shortages have praised the policy but noted areas to improve upon.

May 17, 2019

President Donald Trump has proposed an immigration policy that would aim to create a “merit-based” visa system to address the workforce shortages of U.S. industries.

The proposal would prioritize immigrants who have specific skills or job offers to work in the U.S. rather than those who have family already in the country.

Currently, about 12 percent of immigrants come to the U.S. for skill-based reasons, while 66 percent arrive with ties to family and 22 percent seeking asylum, according to PBS. Trump wants to keep immigration numbers the same but shift those ratios, increasing the number of skill-based arrivals to 57 percent in attempt to attract the most talented people to the country.

Trump says the proposal is “pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker.”

“It’s just common sense,” he said when he unveiled the proposal May 16.

Other provisions of the bill include more funding to build a wall and update ports of entry along the southern border, as well as a plan intended to make it easier for people to obtain visas to come into the country. It contains no provision for providing legal status to people brought to the U.S. or other undocumented immigrants.

Construction industry officials have been outspoken in praising the policy’s efforts to replenish a parched workforce while noting parts of the policy they’d still like to see addressed.

“With a systemic labor shortage impacting ABC [Associated Builders and Contractors] member companies of all sizes and an estimated 440,000 construction jobs that need to be filled in 2019, ABC appreciates the efforts of the Trump administration to bring immigration to the forefront and address our country’s security and workforce needs,” says ABC President and CEO Michael Bellaman. “These are important first steps, though moving forward, immigration reform must include protections for DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and Temporary Protected Status recipients, who have been members of the construction industry workforce for years.

“In addition, the strong U.S. economy has resulted in higher demand for construction services, which has created a nearly nine-month construction backlog, according to ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator. Therefore, we also need to provide employers with greater access to temporary foreign workers to fill critical positions and meet current construction demands.”

Stephen E. Sandherr, the CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, also spoke out about the proposal:

“The president rightly understands that the nation’s immigration policy must allow for more skilled workers, including those with construction skills, to legally join the workforce if our economy is to continue to expand. Considering that this proposal appears to, correctly, redefine the federal government’s definition of skilled workers to include individuals who can perform construction services such as welders and electricians, this measure should provide needed relief to the construction workforce shortages that are already affecting construction schedules and costs. As important, measures like this have the potential to provide needed relief while the industry and public officials work to rebuild the once-robust domestic pipeline for recruiting and preparing young adults to enter high-paying construction careers.

“And while this measure does not tackle broader immigration challenges, such as addressing workers already in the country, it does continue the discussion about reforming our broken immigration system. In the meantime, we look forward to working with Congress and the administration to make sure a final immigration measure helps meet the workforce needs of the construction industry and addresses broader immigration challenges.”

David Biderman, the executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), says the organization "will be studying the new proposal with interest."

“SWANA and its members are concerned that restrictive immigration policies make it more difficult for public and private sector solid waste employers to attract new workers to our critical, but unglamorous, industry," Biderman says.