WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump on Wednesday threw his weight behind efforts to give English-speakers priority for US residency cards and halving the number of legal migrants admitted to the country.
Mr Trump backed proposals that would reform the process of obtaining a US “green card” by introducing a points-based system favouring skilled anglophone workers.
Around one million immigrants are granted permanent residency each year, but the draft legislation – presented at the White House by Mr Trump and two senators who crafted it – aims to cut that number by around 50 percent. It would also put a cap on the number of refugees able to gain permanent residency at 50,000 a year.
Mr Trump hailed what he described as “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century”.
The legislation has only a slim chance of passing in Congress.
It brought almost immediate rejection from influential South Carolina Sen Lindsey Graham, who said he favoured a merit-based system but said this proposal would have a “devastating” impact on his state’s economy.
But Mr Trump’s endorsement gave the White House an opportunity to show the president’s base supporters that he is trying to live up to his hardline promises.
Standing in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Mr Trump said the US had admitted too many low-skilled workers and claimed they were taking jobs from Americans.
“This policy has placed pressure on American workers, taxpayers and community resources,” he said. “It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.”
He pointed to the benefits of a Canadian- or Australian-style points-based system.
“This competitive application process will favour applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy,” he said.
Mr Trump said the new system, if approved, would “help ensure that newcomers to our wonderful country will be assimilated, will succeed and achieve the American dream” while also protecting “struggling American families”.
Critics say the proposals would actually result in falling wages, by slashing the number of migrants creating jobs.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, an anti-discrimination group, said the plan “very much reflects a White nationalist agenda”.