“My goal has been to create an economic-based immigration system going forward,” Graham said this week. “That would mean we’d make decisions based on economic needs of the country, which our current immigration system does not.”
The possibility of a point system has increased concerns among some advocates that business needs for immigrant workers would come at the expense of immigrant families.
A merit-based point system was part of the failed 2007 immigration effort in Congress. That proposal caused a furor as it would have replaced the existing family-based system with one that awarded specific points based on job qualifications, English skills and family connections, among other categories.
Those familiar with the current talks say the Senate plan is different than the 2007 version, though they won’t give specifics on how.
But advocates say reintroducing a point system like those used in Canada or Europe would only make an already complicated immigration system worse.
“Let’s just get back to the basics with this. Do you have a close family member who is already an American or a legal resident on their way to being an American?” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America’s Voice, an advocacy group that supports comprehensive immigration legislation. “Do you have a work ethic that we want in this country? And if you do then that should be the criteria for you to get a shot at a visa.”
Advocacy groups have been growing concerned that the Senate plan would eliminate the ability of citizens to sponsor their married adult children and siblings.
Under current law, these are the third and fourth categories of the family preference program, and they account for about 90,000 new permanent residents each year.
The first two categories for unmarried children and spouses would remain intact.
An estimated 3.4 million people are on the waiting list to get visas in the third and fourth category, including more than a half-million South Asians, according to the Washington-based advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together.
“It’s a lot of people who are waiting to join South Asian Americans and Asian Americans who live in this country,” said executive director Deepa Iyer. “We do think that when someone becomes an adult child that they’re still part of your family. And I think American families believe that as well.”
Iyer said family and economic needs are not mutually exclusive. Immigrant families pull resources together to start small businesses, strengthen community networks, and help newer immigrants integrate into society.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the needs of women and family in a new immigration plan, freshman Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii cautioned her Senate colleagues against increasing the number of employment-based visas at the expense of immigrant families.
“I don’t think that we should be setting up an either/or proposition because, of course, even those people who are the most highly educated and skilled immigrants, they have families, too,” she said.