US MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION
The present US administration has since been against the present immigration laws and regulations. It has given an almost “zero tolerance” approach towards illegal immigrants and they are looking to enforce more accurate laws and requirements on those who wish to immigrate to the US.
To make legal immigration more selective and to avoid illegal immigration, the US is contemplating on a Merit Based Immigration bill. Similar to countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the US equally wants to put in place a merit-based immigration approach. This implies that anyone who applies for a visa would need to meet specific requirements and also go through a series of steps to acquire a merit-based visa for USA.
This article will in details go through the US immigration point system that might be implanted if approved by the US authorities. It sums up the 40-page bill that has been proposed and explains how a merit-based Green Card would work.
WHAT IS MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION?
The Merit Based Immigration is a proposed immigration system where an applicant’s eligibility to get a US visa is determined by certain achievements that they have acquired. Some of which include job prospects, demographics, education, etc.
This proposed bill in the US is currently called ‘Reforming America Immigration for Strong Employment Act or the RAISE Act’. Based on each applicant’s qualifications, the RAISE Act point system will assign them several points.
According to the act, one must get at least 30 points to qualify for the US green card. The objective of this bill is to obtain a fairer immigration process and eradicate the Diversity Visa or lottery which is said to be random and could bring immigrants who would not otherwise get a visa to the US.
Also, the RAISE Act aims to diminish the number of visas issued every year. According to this new bill, not more than 140,000 point based visas can be issued during a fiscal year. Of all those visas, not more than 50,000 should be allocated to refugees and the president will decide how many can be given to asylum seekers.
Incase more applicants meet the criteria than the limit, then the authorities should delay these applicants and give them visas for the next fiscal year.
Also, the RAISE Act specifically targets immediate family and family-based green cards. It is out to put more control into how family reunion is made. for example, the RAISE Act bill states that the definition of what immediate relative is will change as follows;
- Rather than allowing immediate family relatives who are under 21 to join their families in the US, it will lower the threshold to those under 18 or younger.
- It will now allow only children and spouses of US citizens to gain such immediate relative visas instead of children, spouses, and parents.
- it will also limit the immediate relative visas to 88,000 per fiscal year.
In conclusion, the bill intends to make the department of homeland security (DHS) the main authority in charge of immigration cases. The bill shall replace all powers that the US Attorney general has over the immigration process with the secretary of homeland security.
If approved, the RAISE Act could go into power as early as the first days of the US fiscal year which usually begins on October 1st of each year.
A US green card shall be given to those who get a merit-based visa. They shall be allowed to permanently move to the US and live in any state you want. They are allowed to work and have government-issued documents. After the initial 5 years have gone by, they can now apply for US citizenship.
The only shortcoming for those who get a merit-based visa is that they can’t get public benefits such as Medicaid. If you use this public benefit program with a merit-based visa, then you must appoint a supporter through Affidavit of Support who will guarantee that the funds will be returned to the government.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION VISA?
Applicants for merit-based immigration will have to fulfill certain criteria to qualify for points and be allowed to apply. Below are the requirements:
- The age of the applicant while priority is being given to those between 26&30 years old,
- Education of the applicant where priority is being given to with US STEM degrees
- English language proficiency of the applicant based on the international language testing system (IELTS) or test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL)
- Any extraordinary achievement of the applicant including winning a noble price or an Olympic medal
- Whether the applicant has a job offer or not and if yes, the annual salary that the applicant will get.
- Whether the applicant will invest in the US economy by starting and managing a new commercial enterprise.
- Whether the applicant just got approval for a family-based green card right before the RAISE was approved.
Merit Based Immigration Points Calculator: How Is The Merit-Based Immigration System Point Calculated?
The merit based immigration points depend on the instructions above, one can calculate how many points they would get and if they qualify for a merit-based green card visa. This would serve as a US green card point calculator. The distribution of the points shall be explained below:
People are divided into groups depending on their ages and points are allocated to them as shown in the following table. Being within the age range of 26-30 years old increases your merit based immigration points
|0 to 17
||Not allowed to apply
|18 to 21
|22 to 25
|26 to 30
|31 to 35
|36 to 40
|41 to 45
|46 to 50
In this section, points are distributed based on the applicants’ highest educational degree regardless of whether it is a foreign or US degree.
|Highest Educational Degree
|U.S high school diploma or equivalent
|Foreign Bachelor’s Degree
|U.S Bachelor’s Degree
|Foreign Master’s Degree in STEM
|U.S Master’s Degree in STEM
|Foreign Professional Degree or Doctorate Degree in STEM
|U.S Professional Degree or Doctorate Degree in STEM
For applicants with foreign degrees, a list of institutions that meet the standards of US institutions shall be compiled by the director of US citizenship and immigration services and the secretary of education. Only the institutions on this list will be acknowledged as valid degrees for merit-based immigration.
The applicants need to prove their proficiency in English. This can be done by performing well in their proficiency tests. The better their scores, the higher their decile ranking. The points are then distributed based on the decile ranking with higher deciles getting more points.
|English Language Rank in Deciles
|1st through 5th Deciles
|6th and 7th Deciles
The RAISE Act equally gives extra credit to applicants who have an extraordinary achievement. So far, there are only two achievements that fall under this category which are; a Nobel Laureate or an Olympic Gold Medal winner. The points awarded are extremely high. Individuals with either of these achievements are much more likely to pass the 30 points threshold than those who do not have.
|Nobel Laureate or comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study
|Olympic medal or 1st place in an international sporting event in which the majority of the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented in the past 8 years before submitting the application
Applicants with a valid job offer from a US employer get more points as well. Those with no job offers get zero points, but if you do, then the points will depend on the compensation that you are getting. This compensation is based on the US median household income of the US state where you intend to work as determined by the US secretary of labor.
|Job Offer Compensation
|At least 150% of the median household income in the State in which the applicant will be employed and less than 200% of such median household income.
|At least 200% of the median household income in the State in which the applicant will be employed and less than 300% of such median household income.
|At least 300% of the median household income in the State in which the applicant will be employed.
INVESTMENT AND MANAGEMENT OF A NEW COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISE
The amount of investment that will be made in the US economy by opening a new commercial enterprise and the period during which the applicant will manage it will also give points toward a merit-based visa.
|Investing the equivalent of $1,350,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S and maintain such investment for at least 3 years.
Play an active role in the management of that commercial enterprise as the applicant’s primary occupation.
|Investing the equivalent of $1,800,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S and maintain such investment for at least 3 years.
Play an active role in the management of that commercial enterprise as the applicant’s primary occupation.
If you get a merit-based visa due to your investment in the US economy, the immigration officers will continuously check on you to ensure that the investment is being maintained. Failure to maintain the investment or your management role based on the conditions above, then you risk losing the merit-based visa.
APPROVAL OF FAMILY BASED VISA
An individual who just got approved for a family-based green card a day before the RAISE Act is approved will equally get some additional points. They will have to reapply but will get 2 points if:
- There were scheduled to receive an immigrant visa
- They did not receive an immigrant visa during the 1year period beginning on the date of the approval of the RAISE Act.
SUMMING THE POINTS FOR THE MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
To find out how many points you have, you must go through all the criteria and find out how many points you have in each. Then you can proceed by summing all the points and seeing if it’s equal to or more than 30 points. If you have below 30 points, then you shouldn’t apply because your application won’t be reviewed. In case you have 30 points and above, then you must follow the application procedures below.
Note that the merit based immigration US visa isn’t guaranteed after getting more than 30 points. It only makes you eligible to apply.
HOW TO APPLY FOR THE MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION VISA?
In a situation that the RAISE Act gets approved and the US starts giving merit-based visas instead of diversity visas, then the application process will be completely
different. The immigration authorities will still be the US citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), but the application process will be as follows.
STEP 1: SUBMIT AN ONLINE APPLICATION
You are only eligible to apply for merit based immigration if you have gone through the requirements for a merit-based visa and you have 30 points or more based on the criteria. If you are, you will have to submit an online application form to USCIS.
Since the RAISE Act hasn’t been approved yet, the detail of the form to be submitted remains unknown. Attached to this online application form will be the documents that prove you qualify for the points. They include;
- Birth certificate or government-issued document for your age,
- Diplomas and degrees for your education
- Official test scores for English proficiency
- Extraordinary achievement proof if applicable
- Official job offer letter with compensation
- Documents that prove you will start a commercial enterprise in the US and the investment.
Moreover, you will have to pay an application fee of $160. The US government holds the right to change the fee based on inflation. You will be placed in an applicant pol after the application is submitted.
STEP 2: USCIS WILL RANK APPLICATIONS
USCIS will then go through the applications ranking them according to points. Applicants with less than 30 points in the eligibility requirements will not be considered. Never the less, there might be ties between applicants at some point and the RAISE Act specifically explains how to break them as shown below;
In case of a tie between applicants with the same points, then the ranking will be made based on educational degrees first. The highest rank being a doctorate degree, followed by a professional degree, a master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a high school diploma. Us degrees will also be ranked higher than foreign ones.
If two applicants, for example, have the same points but one has a professional degree and the other a master’s degree, the one with a professional degree will be ranked higher.
If two individuals have the same points and the same educational degrees, the shall then be ranked according to their English proficiency. The person with higher proficiency will be ranked higher than the one with lower proficiency.
Individuals with the same points, educational degrees and English proficiency shall be ranked according to their age. The person who is closer to their 25th birthday will be ranked higher than a person who might be younger or older.
STEP 3: USCIS WILL SEND VISA INVITATIONS
After having ranked the applicants in the eligibility pool, USCIS will send invitations to the highest ranked applicants every 6 months. When your application is submitted, you will stay in the applicant pool for 12 months, that way you have two chances that the USCIS will invite you for the visa.
During the first 6 months, USCIS shall invite 50% of the authorized number of merit-based visas per fiscal year including the dependents. The invited applicants will have to file a petition to the USCIS for the merit-based visas no later than 90 days after having received their invitations.
The type of petition in question is yet to be determined, but the applicant will have to submit documents which further proves their eligibility such as
- An attestation from the prospective employer on the job position, salary and stating that the position does not displace a US worker.
- Proof that the employer will provide health insurance based on the US regulation or that you as the applicant will purchase your health insurance.
- A processing fee of $345
STEP 4: USCIS WILL PROCESS AND ANNOUNCE MERIT BASED VISA WINNERS
After processing the petitions, USCIS will proceed to announce the winners of the merit-based based visa and the US embassies in the home country of the winners will issue them. While USCIS processes the petitions, the applicants will be screened for their criminal background and their medical appointments as per the usual requirements for US immigrant visas.
If they pass these checks, they will then get the merit-based visas and can now move to the US.
CAN I BRING MY DEPENDENTS WITH A MERIT BASED VISA?
As the main applicant, it is permitted to bring your spouse and minor children to the US. The child automatically gets his/her merit-based visa as you. Unlike the child, your spouse equally needs to be a part of the application process and is evaluated based on the points system.
If the spouse’s points are equal to or more than yours, it will not affect the application and if you are approved, then they can join you too. On the other hand, if the spouse has fewer points then you and the spouse will be ranked together with 70% of the points coming from you and 30% coming from your spouse. Therefore, having a spouse in the application with fewer points than you will negatively affect your ranking in the application pool.
In addition to the spouse and minor children, an adult child (over 18 years) is allowed to join you. This can only be done on the condition that they are unable to care for themselves. So if your adult child is dependent on you, then they are allowed to join you with the merit-based visa but they are not allowed to work in the US.
CAN I GET US CITIZENSHIP UNDER THE MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION?
Like all other US immigrant visas, after 5 years of maintaining it, you become eligible to apply for US citizenship. The same applies to the merit-based visa. You will need to qualify and fulfill the criteria to become a US citizen and if approved, you will get a US passport.
While on merit-based visa, if you ever receive public benefits that your supporter did not reimburse the government, you will not be allowed to get a US citizenship. That aside, you need to have a clean criminal record and valid documentation.
WHEN WILL THE POINT BASED SYSTEM BE IMPLEMENTED IN THE US?
The RAISE Act is still a proposed bill that is still to be analyzed by government authorities of the United States. If approved, it will become operational on the first day of the fiscal year which for the US is every 1st of October every year. The RAISE Act and the point-based visas could, therefore, start being implemented as soon as October 2019. If it is approved after October 2019 then it will go into power in October 2020.
Donald Trump’s Merit Based Immigration System