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How might President Trump fare in the "merit-based" immigration scheme he just endorsed?
If he were an immigrant, there's a decent chance he'd get kicked out of the country.
The economy-crippling bill that Trump embraced this week includes much to dislike. It would cut legal immigration levels in half, flouting Trump's prior pledges not to reduce legal immigration or be unfair to those who've patiently waited in line — some for years.
Despite what he and the bill's Senate sponsors suggest, it also wouldn't increase the number of skilled or merit-based immigrants. Instead, it would change how "skills" and "merit" are defined, replacing our current employer-centered system with a points-based one — and then scaling back eligibility for almost everyone else.
For insight into how thoughtfully designed this new system is, let's try a high- profile test case: the leader of the free world.
Under the bill, points would be awarded for age, education, extraordinary achievement, English-language proficiency, entrepreneurial initiative and having a high- paying job offer. There's also a tiny bonus for those already scheduled to receive a green card under the old system's family preference category. The top score available is 90, by my tally. (There's some ambiguity about the scoring, however; more on that later.)
Here's how Trump — or at least, a foreign national with roughly his qualifications — would do.
Age: zero points. People older than 51 don't earn points. Trump is 71. The best ages to be under this system, by the way, are 26 to 30. (Darn millennials.)
Trump has a bachelor's degree from a U.S. university.
Record of extraordinary achievement: zero. Trump may have starred in a network reality show and (allegedly) sunk 30-foot putts, but what counts as "extraordinary achievement" is limited to two categories.
One is winning a Nobel Prize or comparable recognition in a science or social science field. No luck there, though a certain pseudo-Kenyan predecessor would benefit.
The other is recently winning an Olympic medal (individual event only, no relays!) or placing first in another comparable international athletic event.
English-language ability: zero. To receive points here, you need to score in the top half of those taking an officially sanctioned English proficiency exam, such as the TOEFL.
Success on this exam's writing section requires using "appropriate word choice," effectively addressing a topic and displaying "unity, progression and coherence." Consider how the coiner of "covfefe" might perform.
The TOEFL speaking section includes responding to a simple question prompt. Scoring well requires staying on topic, being intelligible and exhibiting "sustained, coherent discourse."
Peruse the transcript of Trump's recent interview with the Wall Street Journal — or any other unscripted conversation, really — to judge how he fares.
Entrepreneurial initiative: 12. Trump gets this for investing at least $1.8 million in a new commercial enterprise in the United States, maintaining this investment for at least three years and playing an active role in the company's management.
The Trump Organization is not exactly a "new commercial enterprise" — it was founded by Trump's grandmother, before he was born — but he has a long list of more- recently-created LLCs and other corporations that probably count.
High-paying job offer: zero. This involves the ambiguous legislative language I flagged earlier.
Trump reports having a lot of income from his companies. But two immigration experts I consulted said that the "entrepreneurial initiative" and "high-paying job offer" points are likely mutually exclusive. That is, to get points for the entrepreneurial initiative category, the commercial enterprise you invest in must be one you help manage as your primary occupation; and you can't claim you made yourself a high-paying job offer. Even the measly $400,000 offered him as president (which as a foreigner, he couldn't be, but whatever) might not help him here, if he's claiming entrepreneurial points.
Trump's total: 18. To be eligible to join the applicant pool of those trying for a points-based immigrant visa, you need a minimum score of 30.
If you want to be more generous (and less cheeky) than I, you could decide that Trump would score in the top decile on the English test. That would grant him an additional 12 points, bringing him just up to that 30-point minimum.
Even so, not everyone who met that threshold would get in. Roughly the top 70,000 scorers would be selected, when you factor in spouses and dependents they get to bring along. We don't know what the cutoff would be. It might be 65 points, depending on how many apply.
If Trump's even-barely-eligible score weren't high enough, he could try again the following year, so long as still he had a legal temporary visa. Otherwise he'd have to leave the country.
If he were really desperate, of course, he could find a U.S. spouse to sponsor him for a green card. Melania to the rescue? Her English has to be better.
Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post. She frequently covers economics, public policy, politics and culture, with a special emphasis on data-driven journalism. Before joining The Post, she wrote about economics and theater for the New York Times. Follow
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