Limit legal immigration

“We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people. Workers. We’re going to take care of our workers.”

Subjects: Immigration

Limit legal immigration

PolitiFact is tracking the promises of President Donald Trump. See them all at


Trump meets with lawmakers to discuss changes to legal immigration

President Donald Trump is moving forward on plans to restrict the number of people who legally come to the United States.

Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, said at a press briefing March 7 that Trump was meeting with lawmakers regarding changes to the immigration system.

"At this moment, the president is leading a discussion on immigration with Sen. (Tom) Cotton and Sen. (David) Perdue and members of the White House senior staff," Spicer said. "The president and the senators were expected to discuss the merit-based immigration reforms that the president mentioned at last week's joint address."

The Republican senators, Cotton from Arkansas and Perdue from Georgia, last month introduced legislation to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. The senators propose reducing the number of family-sponsored immigrants; the creation of a new nonimmigrant classification for parents of adult U.S. citizens; limits to the president's discretion in number of refugees to be admitted per year (capping it to 50,000 a year), and the elimination of the diversity visa program. The program grants a limited number of visas per fiscal year to to individuals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act seeks to reposition legal immigration toward employment-based visas and immediate family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

Cotton has said that of 1 million green cards issued a year, few are employment-based. We've found that to be Mostly True, as most are granted for family reunification.

The RAISE Act would lower overall legal immigration to about 638,000 individuals in the first year (from the current level of about 1 million a year) and to about 540,000 by its tenth year, Cotton said in a Feb. 7 press release.

Trump in his first speech before a joint session of Congress again set forth his vision to bring jobs back to Americans -- and said that will partly be achieved through changes to the immigration system.

"Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers," Trump said Feb. 28.

"It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon," Trump said. "Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits. It will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families -- including immigrant families -- enter the middle class."

Trump promised to limit legal immigration and has met with lawmakers who seek those changes in the immigration system. We rate this promise In the Works.


Sean Spicer comments at White House press briefing, March 7, 2017

CNN, Transcript President Donald Trump speech to Congress, updated March 1, 2017, S.354 - RAISE Act, introduced Feb. 13, 2017

State Department, The Diversity Visa Process

Sen. Tom Cotton website, Cotton, Perdue Unveil the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, Feb. 7, 2017

PolitiFact, Arkansas senator says of 1 million green cards issued, few are employment-based, Feb. 14, 2017

Moving from family to jobs orientation

When it comes to immigration, illegal movement isn't Donald Trump's only concern. He also wants legal immigration re-examined.

Trump said he'd welcome immigrants but would be selective in who's allowed into the United States, making sure they're vetted and come to contribute to the country.

"We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people. Workers. We're going to take care of our workers," Trump said in his 10-point immigration plan outlined in Phoenix in the summer of 2016.


Controlling future immigration, Trump said, is needed to "ensure assimilation, integration and upward mobility."

Immigrants as a share of the national population are on the rise and set to break records, Trump claimed.

"We've been living under outdated immigration rules from decades ago. To avoid this happening in the future, I believe we should sunset our visa laws so that Congress is forced to periodically revise and revisit them," Trump said Aug. 31, 2016.


Trump proposed a new immigration commission that would create reforms to achieve four goals:

  • Keep immigration levels, measured by population share, within historical norms (Trump did not specify his benchmark for historical norms, but some have estimated that the foreign-born share since 1850 on average has accounted for 10 percent of the U.S. population);

  • Select immigrants based on their prospects to be "financially self-sufficient" and on their chances of success in American society;

  • Select immigrants depending on their merit, skill and proficiency; and,

  • Set new "immigration controls" to increase wages and to make sure available jobs are first made available to Americans.


Congress sets rules regarding immigration, and legal immigration currently isn't as open as Trump may suggest. It's already limited qualitatively and quantitatively, said Stephen Legomsky, professor emeritus at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"Qualitatively, one may not legally immigrate unless, first, the person fits within one of the specific immigration categories established by Congress," Legomsky said.

Lawful permanent admission into the United States falls into four main categories: family reunification; people with desired, needed occupational skills; refugee protection; and country-of-origin diversity, noted a February 2016 Congressional Research Service report.

With a few exceptions, the law caps the number of people allowed annually under each of the qualifying categories and on the amount of people admitted from any one country, Legomsky said.

"Those caps have generated long waiting periods (typically several years) for most of the qualifying categories," Legomsky said.


Trump's goal of limiting legal immigration depends on support and swift action from Congress. Trump will take office with a Republican-led Congress, which may facilitate the keeping of this promise.


Donald J. Trump's 10-point immigration plan