The current US administration has continuously been opposed to the current immigration laws and regulations. It has imposed a “zero tolerance” approach towards illegal immigration and is seeking to impose stricter laws and requirements on those who want to immigrate to the US.
To prevent illegal immigration and make legal immigration more selective, the US is debating a Merit Based Immigration Bill. In the style of many countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the US also wants to implement a Merit Based Immigration approach. This would mean that anyone who applies for a visa would need to fulfill certain requirements and pass a threshold of points to get a Merit Based visa.
This article will go through the details of the US immigration points system that might be implemented if approved by the authorities. It will summarize the 40-page bill that has been proposed and explains how a Merit Based Green Card would work.
What is Merit Based Immigration?
Merit Based Immigration is a proposed immigration system where an applicant’s eligibility to get a US Green Card is based on certain achievements that they have. This could include demographics, education, job prospects and so on.
In the US, the proposed bill is being called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act or the RAISE Act. The RAISE Act point system will assign each applicant a certain number of points based on their qualifications.
The Act states that one must get at least 30 points to qualify for a Green Card in the US. The bill wants to achieve a fairer immigration process and eliminate the Diversity Visa or Lottery which officials have said is random and could bring immigrants who would not otherwise get a visa in the US.
The RAISE Act also aims to limit the number of visas issued each year. With the new bill, the maximum of points based visas that can be issued during a fiscal year cannot pass 140,000 visas. Out of all these visas, no more than 50,000 visas should be given to refugees and the President shall decide how many can be given to asylum seekers.
If more applicants meet the criteria than the limit, then the immigration authorities can delay these applicants and give them Merit Based visas in the next fiscal year.
Additionally, the RAISE Act specifically targets Immediate Relative and Family Based Green Cards. It seeks to put more control into how family reunification is made. For example, one of the sections in the RAISE Act bill states that the definition of what an Immediate Relative is will change as follows:
- Instead of allowing immediate family relatives who are under 21 years old to join their family members in the US, it will lower the threshold to those who are 18 years old or younger;
- Instead of allowing children, spouses, and parents of US citizens to gain such Immediate Relative Visas, it will now only allow children and spouses;
- Limiting the Immediate Relative Visas to 88,000 per fiscal year.
Finally, the bill seeks to make the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the main authority in immigration cases. The bill will replace all powers that the US Attorney General has over the immigration process with the Secretary of Homeland Security.
If the RAISE Act is approved it could go into power as early as the first day of the US fiscal year which begins on October 1st of each year.
Those who get a Merit Based visa will have a US Green Card. They will be allowed to move to the US permanently and live in any state they want. They are allowed to work and have government-issued documents. After the initial 5 year period has passed and they have successfully maintained the visa, they can apply for a US citizenship.
The only restriction for those who get a Merit Based visa is that they cannot get public benefits such as Medicaid. If you get a Merit Based visa and use a public benefit program, then you must appoint a supporter through the Affidavit of Support who will guarantee that the funds will be returned to the government.
What Are the Requirements for the Merit Based Immigration?
According to the RAISE Act, applicants for Merit Based Immigration will have to fulfill certain requirements to qualify for points and be allowed to apply. These requirements are as follows:
- Age of the applicant where priority is being given to those who are between 26 and 30 years old;
- Education of the applicant where priority is being given to those with US STEM Degrees;
- English language proficiency of the applicant based on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) deciles;
- Any extraordinary achievements of the applicant including winning a Nobel Prize 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 Act was approved.
How Will the Merit Based Immigration Points be Given?
Based on the requirements above, you can calculate how many points you would get and whether you qualify for a Merit Based Green Card. This would serve as a US Green Card Points Calculator and the points are distributed as explained below.
The age requirement divides groups of people depending on their age and assigns points to them as below.
|0 to 17||Not allowed to apply|
|18 to 21||6 points|
|22 to 25||8 points|
|26 to 30||10 points|
|31 to 35||8 points|
|36 to 40||6 points|
|41 to 45||4 points|
|46 to 50||2 points|
The education points are distributed based on the highest educational degree which the applicant has, whether it is a foreign or a US degree.
|Highest Educational Degree||Points|
|US high school diploma or equivalent||1 point|
|Foreign Bachelor’s Degree||5 points|
|US Bachelor’s Degree||6 points|
|Foreign Master’s Degree in STEM||7 points|
|US Master’s Degree in STEM||8 points|
|Foreign Professional Degree or Doctorate Degree in STEM||10 points|
|US Professional Degree or Doctorate Degree in STEM||13 points|
For those with foreign degrees, the Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Secretary of Education will compile a list of institutions that meet accreditation standards of institutions in the US. Only those institutions in the list will be recognized as valid degrees for Merit Based Immigration.
The applicant must also prove that they are proficient in English and the better they score on the proficiency tests, 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||Points|
|1st through 5th Deciles||0 points|
|6th and 7th Deciles||6 points|
|8th Decile||10 points|
|9th Decile||11 points|
|10th Decile||12 points|
The RAISE Act will also give extra points to those who have an extraordinary achievement. The achievements that fall into this category are only a Nobel Laureate or an Olympic Gold Medal winner. The points awarded are very high and those who have one of these achievements will pass the 30 points threshold much easier than those who do not.
|Nobel Laureate or comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study||25 points|
|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||15 points|
Those who have a valid job offer from a US employer will also get more points. If you do not have a job offer, then you will get 0 points, but if you do then the points depend on the compensation that you are getting. The compensation is based on the US median household income of the US state where you will be working as determined by the US Secretary of Labor.
|Job Offer Compensation||Points|
|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.||5 points|
|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.||8 points|
|At least 300% of the median household income in the State in which the applicant will be employed.||13 points|
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 time in which the investor/applicant will manage it will also give points towards a Merit Based visa.
|Investing the equivalent of $1,350,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the US 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 US 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 invest in the US economy and get the merit based visa, the US immigration officials will check up on you continuously to ensure that you are maintaining the investment. If you do not maintain the investment or your management role based on the conditions above, then you will lose the Merit Based visa.
Approval of Family-Based Visa
A person who was just approved for a Family Based Green Card the day before the RAISE Act is approved will also get some additional points. They will have to apply again but will get 2 points if:
- They were scheduled to receive an immigrant visa
- They did not receive an immigrant visa during the 1 year period beginning on the date of the approval of the RAISE Act
Summing the Points
You must go through all of the criteria and find out how many points you have in each. Then you can continue to sum all the points and see whether you have 30 or more points. If you have less than 30, then you should not apply because your application will not be reviewed. If you have more than 30 points, then you must follow the application procedures below.
Getting more than 30 points does not guarantee that you will get the Merit Based Visa for the US, but it will only make you eligible for applying.
How to Apply For the Merit Based Visa?
If the RAISE Act is approved and the US starts giving Merit Based visas instead of Diversity Visas, then there will be a different application process. The immigration authority will still be the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but the procedure will be as follows.
Step 1: Submit an online application
If you have gone through the requirements for the Merit Based visa and based on the criteria, you have 30 or more points then you are eligible to apply. You will have to submit an online application form to USCIS.
Since the RAISE Act has not been approved yet, the details of what form you will have to submit are still not known. With this online application form, you will also have to attach the documents which prove you qualify for the points. This includes the following:
- Birth certificate or a 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.
In addition, you will also have to pay a $160 application fee for processing. The US government maintains the right to change the fees based on inflation. When you submit the application, you will be placed in an applicant pool.
Step 2: USCIS will rank applications
USCIS will then go through the applications to rank them according to the points. Applications that have less than 30 points in the eligibility requirements will not be considered. However, there might be times when there are applicants with equal points and the RAISE Act specifies how to break the ties, as follows:
If applicants have the same points then the ranking will be made on educational degrees first. The highest rank will be a doctorate degree and after it will be a professional degree, master’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and high school diploma. US degrees will also be ranked higher than foreign ones.
So for example, if two applicants have the same points but one has a professional degree and the other a master’s degree, the one with the professional degree will be ranked higher.
If two applicants have the same points and the same educational degrees, then they will be ranked according to their English proficiency. The person with a higher proficiency will be ranked higher than the one with a lower proficiency.
Two applicants with the same points, same educational degrees and the same English proficiency will then be ranked according to age. The applicant 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 ranking the applicants in the eligibility pool, USCIS will then send invitations to the highest ranked applicants every 6 months. When you submit your application, you will stay in the applicant pool for 12 months, so you have two chances that USCIS will invite you for the visa.
In the first 6 months, USCIS will invite 50% of the allowed number of Merit Based visas per fiscal year including the dependents. The invited applicants will have to file a petition to USCIS for the Merit Based visa no later than 90 days after USCIS has sent the invitations.
The type of petition is yet to be determined, but the applicant will have to submit documents which further prove 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 regulations or that you as the applicant will purchase your own health insurance;
- A processing fee of $345.
Step 4: USCIS will process and announce Merit Based visa winners
After processing the petitions, USCIS will then announce those who got the Merit Based visa and the US Embassies in the home countries of the winners will issue them. In the meantime, 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, then they will get the Merit Based visas and can move to the US.
Can I Bring my Dependents With a Merit Based Visa?
As the main applicant, you are allowed to also bring your spouse and minor children to the US. The minor child will automatically get the Merit Based visa as you, however, your spouse must also be part of the application and is evaluated based on the points system.
If the spouse has the same amount of points as you or more points, then it will not affect the application and if you are approved, the spouse will be allowed to join you too. However, if the spouse has fewer points than you, then you and the spouse will be ranked together with 70% of the points coming from you and 30% from the spouse. So having a spouse in the application with fewer points than you will negatively affect your ranking in the applicant pool.
In addition to the spouse and minor children, an adult child is also allowed to join you. The conditions for the adult child (over 18 years old) are that they must not be able to care for themselves. So if you have an adult child who is dependent on you, then they are allowed to join you with the merit based visa, but they will not be allowed to work in the US.
Can I get a US Citizenship Under the Merit Based Immigration?
As with all US immigrant visas after 5 years of maintaining it, you will be eligible to apply for a US citizenship. The same applies to the Merit Based visa. You will have to be eligible and fulfill the requirements to become a US citizen and if approved, you will get the US passport.
If during the time you were on a Merit Based visa and received public benefits that your supporter did not reimburse the government for, then you will not be allowed to get a US citizenship. Other than that, you must have a clean criminal record and valid documentation.
When Will the Points-Based System be Implemented in the US?
The RAISE Act is still a proposed bill which will be analyzed by the US government authorities. If approved, it will go into power on the first day of the fiscal year which for the US is October 1st of each year. Therefore, the RAISE Act and the points-based visas could start being implemented as soon as October 2018.
If the RAISE Act is approved after October 2018, then it will go into power in October 2019.