Americans want U.S. to place greater emphasis on immigrant skills, poll finds

A large majority of Americans favor changing U.S. immigration policies to place less of an emphasis on family reunification, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll released Tuesday.

Currently, the U.S. gives preference to applicants being sponsored by a family member over immigrants from other categories. President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE has been circulating a modification to the law which would create a scoring system that would allow immigrants to sponsor themselves and to improve their chances by having in-demand skills, speaking English and having higher educational attainment.

The May 24-25 survey found that only 8 percent of registered voters said they wanted would-be immigrants with relatives already in the country to be given preference over those with job skills that might benefit the U.S. economy.

Forty-four percent said they wanted a system that would place equal weight on family reunification and immigrants' skills while 31 percent of respondents said that they wanted the U.S. to favor immigrants who could help the economy. Seventeen percent said that neither group of applicants should be given preference.

Democratic respondents were overwhelmingly likely to prefer that both skills and family membership be weighted equally with 63 percent of the group holding this opinion. Nineteen percent wanted a preference for skills while 11 percent wanted immigrants with family members in the country to be given preference. Seven percent said neither criteria should be favored.

Among voters who said they were Republicans, 52 percent said wanted an immigration system that favored immigrants with in-demand job skills while 22 percent said skills and family membership should be weighted equally. Twenty-one percent of GOP respondents said neither group should be favored. Only 5 percent said that immigrants with family members in the country should be given preference.

The plurality of independent voters, 45 percent, said that they wanted economic skills and family membership to be weighted equally while 26 percent said they wanted preference given to those with more in-demand skills. Twenty percent of independents said they wanted neither immigrant group to be favored while 8 percent said they wanted applicants with family members in the U.S. to be given preference.

Across age groups, there was less variation, although younger voters (those 34 and younger) were the most likely to prefer family unification over employable skills. Only 14 percent of this group said they wanted preference for immigrants with family members already in the U.S. to be given better treatment, but it was higher than the 4-8 percent of older groups who agreed.

About one-third of respondents of all ages said they favored immigrants with job skills that could help the economy. Between 40 and 49 percent of each age group said they wanted employable skills and family membership to be weighted equally.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 66 percent of approved long-term visa applicants are family-sponsored, 12 percent are employer-sponsored, 11 percent are refugees, and 5 percent are from a "diversity visa lottery" which periodically increases the number allowed from particular countries that do not normally have large numbers of emigrants apply.

President Trump has said he wants to eliminate the diversity visa program and decrease the number of refugees allowed in the U.S. The fate of his new immigration framework, which does not include any reference to people currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is unclear.

—Matthew Sheffield