US President Donald Trump is seeking to reduce the number of legal migrants in the country, throwing his support behind an an immigration reform bill developed by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.
"This competitive application process will favour applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy," Trump said.
The new bill, known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, could cut legal immigration by 50 percent over 10 years by reducing the kinds of relatives immigrants can bring into the country.
The bill faces opposition, including among Republicans
The move came after a crackdown on illegal immigration in the US promised by Trump during his campaign.
He signed two executive orders soon after taking office to increase border security and interior enforcement, reducing the number of unauthorised border crossings from Mexico.
Trump and the Republican lawmakers blasted the current immigration system as out of date, arguing it hurts American workers by driving down wages.
Under the new bill, the US would prioritise high-skilled immigrants by setting up a merits-based system similar to those used by Canada and Australia.
The Senators said they worked closely with the White House on this latest version of their bill.
"This is probably our third or fourth visit to the Oval Office to work with President Trump," Cotton told reporters.
But the legislation faces an uphill climb to get through Congress where some senior Republicans back comprehensive immigration reform, not a tough crackdown.
Bill could hit key economic sectors
Slashing legal immigration as long been pushed by low-immigration advocacy groups in Washington such as NumbersUSA and the ideas have been backed by Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, who is now facing public criticism from Trump.
NumbersUSA President Roy Beck hailed the bill and said that it "will do more than any other action to fulfil President Trump's promises as a candidate."
Cotton and Perdue said their bill does not affect temporary visas for workers in certain tech sectors and seasonal jobs that are popular with many businesses.
They stressed that the legislation was narrowly focused, an approach they hoped would be able to get bipartisan support.
"We're not trying to boil the ocean here and change everything about our immigration law," Cotton said.
But other Republican lawmakers said the bill might be going too far.
Senator Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, said his state is dependent on immigrant labour to sustain the two biggest sectors of the economy, agriculture and tourism.
I've always supported merit-based immigration. I think we should always want to attract the best and brightest to the United States. (1)— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 2, 2017
Unfortunately other part of proposal reduces legal immigration by half inclding many immigrants who work legally in Ag, tourism, & service.2— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 2, 2017
Economists have called into the question the benefits of cutting legal immigration.
FWD.us, a group that represents the tech industry said that the bill would "severely harm the economy."
The bill aims to end the diversity visa lottery, which allows 50,000 people from under-represented countries to obtain green cards.
It also sets a 50,000-annual cap on refugees, instead of a level mandated by the president.
Trump criticises today's immigrants
Refugee organisations said permanently limiting number of refugees allowed in the country goes against an American value of offering safe haven to people fleeing violence and oppression.
Trump suggested at an event in New York's Long Island on Friday that immigrants today are different than in previous generations.
"What happened to the old days when people came into this country and they worked and they worked and they worked and they had families and paid taxes and they did all sorts of things and their families got stronger and they were closely knit?" Trump asked the audience of law enforcement officers.
"We don't see that."