President Donald Trump has endorsed legislation to end a visa programme known as the Green Card lottery that has enabled more than 17,000 Kenyans to gain residency in the US in recent years.
Africans have been leading beneficiaries of the 27-year-old Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, as the lottery is officially known.
A total of 22,703 sub-Saharan Africans were among the 52,342 visa lottery winners in 2014 — the latest year for which State Department statistics are available.
Kenyans accounted for 1,216 of the winning entries that year.
Mr Trump joined two Republican senators on Wednesday in unveiling a proposal to establish a “merit-based” US system that would award visas on the basis of applicants’ job skills.
The White House said the legislation would eliminate “the outdated Diversity Visa lottery system, which serves questionable economic and humanitarian interests.”
In addition to terminating the lottery, the legislation would sharply limit other means of obtaining permanent residency status in the US.
The total number of green cards issued annually would drop from more than 1 million to about 500,000 under the shift favoured by Mr Trump.
Senator Tom Cotton, one of the Bill’s two lead sponsors, said on Wednesday that while some may view current US immigration policy as a “symbol of America’s virtue and generosity,” he views it as “a symbol we’re not committed to working-class Americans, and we need to change that.”
Mr Trump had argued during the presidential campaign that too many immigrants are gaining entry to the US and are taking jobs from citizens.
Sponsors of the Bill to overhaul the US visa system have entitled it the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE).
Political analysts say the president’s proposal has little chance of becoming law.
It would need the support of 60 of the 100 US senators, with a sizable share of the chamber’s 48 Democrats likely to oppose the legislation.
One Senate Democrat, Richard Blumenthal of the New England state of Connecticut, called it an “offensive plan” consisting of “a series of nativist talking points and regurgitated campaign rhetoric.”
LESS THAN 1PC
Angelica Salas, director of an immigrant rights organisation, suggested that the RAISE proposal is mainly meant to mollify Trump supporters upset by the president’s failure to gain passage of any significant legislation during the past six months.
“Red meat to Donald Trump’s base” was Ms Salas’ description of the RAISE effort.
The number of Kenyans entering the green card lottery has been steadily declining in recent years–from about 265,000 in 2013 to 194,000 in 2015.
Less than 1 percent of the Kenyans who joined the lottery in 2014 were actually awarded green cards.