Trump says he wants better-educated immigrants. His plan does the opposite.

Trump says he wants better-educated immigrants. His plan does the opposite.


Originally published by The Washington Post

THE TRUMP administration’s proposed immigration overhaul would cut not only immigrant inflow generally but especially the number of minority migrants, which may help address Republican fears about the long-term “browning” of the electorate — a trend that could benefit Democrats. Beyond that, one consequence of the administration’s goals may come as a surprise: It would slash not only the number of immigrants with a university or advanced degree but also the average educational attainment among immigrants who are admitted.

Those findings, in an analysis from the Center for Global Development, shine a spotlight on the fallacy at the core of the president’s policy. In his determination to minimize migration from countries he reportedly regards as “shitholes,” Mr. Trump also undercuts his claimed preference for a more highly skilled, educated pool of immigrants.

Here’s why: It’s true that the number of low-skill immigrants would plummet under legislation introduced last month by conservative House lawmakers, which Mr. Trump backed and whose main provisions he included in his own plan. The number of those lacking even a high school degree would be slashed by more than 70 percent; those with only a high school degree would fall by about 44 percent.

However, the administration and GOP plans would also target existing immigrant categories that grant tens of thousands of visas to well-educated migrants. The prime example is the so-called diversity lottery program, which admits 50,000 immigrants annually from African and other countries underrepresented in the overall immigrant pool. That program is loathed by the president even though 41 percent of immigrants in recent years have a college or advanced degree — slightly more than the proportion of working-age Americans overall.

The result is that the overall number of college-educated immigrants would drop by nearly 18 percent, and the average educational attainment among all admitted immigrants would also slip slightly. That’s a lose-lose for America, which already imposes such strict visa quotas that many foreign graduates of U.S. universities are forced to leave the country after securing advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and other fields desperate for qualified workers. Thus would the United States squander a competitive advantage it has enjoyed for decades as a nation with a proven track record for successfully assimilating immigrants from feeder nations near and far.

Perhaps less surprisingly, the number crunching on Mr. Trump’s immigration blueprint also shows that black and Hispanic immigrants would be about twice as likely to be barred from immigrating to America as white immigrants. The number of Muslim immigrants would be cut in half, but so would the number of Catholic ones. Numbers of Jewish and Protestant migrants would fall by just under 40 percent.

It’s fair to argue that America might benefit from a system tilted toward admitting more well-educated immigrants and fewer relatives. But the across-the-board reductions sought by Mr. Trump and the GOP are a recipe for slower growth and a gift for economic rivals in Europe and Asia. How is that in America’s interest?

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