Trump Says He Would Give Green Cards to All Foreign College Students at Graduation


Donald J. Trump said he would push for a program that would automatically give green cards to all foreign college students in America after they graduate, a reversal from restrictions he enacted as president on immigration by high-skilled workers and students to the United States.

But hours after Mr. Trump’s remarks aired, his campaign’s press secretary, Karoline Leavitt, walked back the former president’s comments, saying in a statement that there would be an “aggressive vetting process” that would “exclude all communists, radical Islamists, Hamas supporters, America haters and public charges” and that the policy would apply only to the “most skilled graduates who can make significant contributions to America.”

Appearing with the host David Sacks, a Silicon Valley investor who backs the former president’s 2024 campaign, on a podcast that aired Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump had repeated his frequent criticism of high levels of immigration as an “invasion of our country.” But he was then pressed by Jason Calacanis, another investor who hosts the podcast, to “promise us you will give us more ability to import the best and brightest around the world to America.”

“I do promise, but I happen to agree,” Mr. Trump said, adding “what I will do is — you graduate from a college, I think you should get automatically, as part of your diploma, a green card to be able to stay in this country, and that includes junior colleges.”

It would have been a sweeping change that would have opened a vast path to American citizenship for foreigners. The State Department estimated that the United States hosted roughly one million international students in the academic year that ended in 2022 — a majority of whom came from China and India. The United States granted lawful permanent residence to roughly one million people during the year that ended in September 2022, so such a policy change would significantly increase the number of green cards issued.

Mr. Trump suggested on the podcast that he had wanted to enact such a policy while in office but “then we had to solve the Covid problem.” The Trump administration invoked the pandemic to enact many of the immigration restrictions that officials had wanted to put in place earlier in Mr. Trump’s term.

Mr. Trump also lamented “stories where people graduated from a top college or from a college, and they desperately wanted to stay here, they had a plan for a company, a concept, and they can’t — they go back to India, they go back to China, they do the same basic company in those places. And they become multibillionaires.”

Mr. Trump’s initial comments stood in contrast to the immigration policy he adopted while in office, and his campaign’s statement muddled what had been a direct overture to wealthy business leaders whom Mr. Trump is courting as donors and supporters of his campaign. Mr. Sacks hosted a fund-raiser this month for the former president in San Francisco, the beating heart of the liberal tech industry, that raised about $12 million for Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Mr. Trump had at times sought to reform the nation’s immigration system to scale back family-based immigration and to prioritize immigrants who were wealthy, who had valuable work skills or who were highly educated.

But during his term as president, Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda included restrictions on green cards, visa programs, refugee resettlement and other forms of legal immigration, significantly reducing the number of lawful permanent residents entering the country. Stephen Miller, a White House adviser to Mr. Trump who still helps guide his thinking on policy, was the architect of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda and had sought to tighten restrictions on student and work visa programs.

He began his presidency by signing an executive order that banned travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries and later embraced a proposal to cut legal immigration by half. Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump assailed the H-1B visa program, favored by tech companies as a way to hire foreign skilled workers, as a “theft of American prosperity.”

Mr. Trump expanded restrictions on legal immigration during the pandemic and his last year in office and had proposed suspending all immigration to the United States and deporting foreign students if they did not attend at least some classes in person. A month before the 2020 election, Mr. Trump again moved to restrict the H-1B visa program.

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