Trump’s plan for civics test for legal entrants could keep out highly skilled immigrants, experts say – NBC News

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By Daniella Silva

President Donald Trump announced a sweeping immigration proposal Thursday that would alter the way legal immigrants are allowed into the U.S. The plan includes a civics test, a measure that experts said was highly unusual and could exclude high-skilled applicants from entering the country.

“This test is at best unnecessary and could screen out some very skilled, ambitious immigrants who are ready to be productive in America, whatever the test says,” said Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and co-director of its Trade and Immigration Project.

“It could be a barrier to very productive immigrants becoming a part of American society,” he said.

Griswold and others said while the details of Trump’s proposal remain unclear, they have never heard of such a requirement at that level in the immigration process. Such exams are usually part of citizenship tests, they said.

“It’s like asking for people to apply for citizenship when they arrive,” said Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It’s a big thing to ask of people from other parts of the world.”

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Trump’s proposal would create a system that favors applicants who are highly skilled, well-educated and speak English, as well as have potential employment over family-based immigration.

The White House estimates 12 percent of people who obtain green cards and citizenship do so based on “employment and skill,” while 66 percent enter via family-based connections and 22 percent through humanitarian visas and the diversity lottery. Under the new proposal, employment and skill would increase to 57 percent, 33 percent for family-based and 10 percent for everything else.

The merit-based system proposal is centered around what would be called the “Build America” visa. It recognizes three categories: extraordinary talent, professional and specialized vocations, and exceptional students.

The U.S. grants about 1.1 million green cards a year, including to people already living in the U.S. on visas. The administration has said the number would not change, just the composition.

But Brown said that would depend on what the points system would look like.

“How many people would meet the new point criteria and how many of those want to come to the U.S.?” she said. “They may or may not be able to keep the numbers the same.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly touted so-called “merit-based” or points-based systems, such as in Canada and Australia.