proposes new U.S. immigration plan favoring skills over family ties

By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald on Thursday said he wants to overhaul the immigration system to favor young, educated, English-speaking applicants with job offers instead of people with family ties to Americans, a plan with little chance of advancing in Congress.

's plan, roundly panned by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, is aimed at trying to unite Republicans - some who want to boost immigration, others who want to restrict it - ahead of the November 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

"If for some reason, possibly political, we can't get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House (of Representatives), keep the Senate, and, of course, hold the presidency," said in a Rose Garden address to Republican lawmakers and Cabinet members.

Currently, about two-thirds of the 1.1 million people allowed to emigrate to the United States each year are given green cards granting permanent residency because of family ties.

proposed to keep the overall numbers steady, but shift to a "merit-based" system similar to one used in Canada - a plan he said would result in 57% of green cards to be based on employment and skills.

Ahead of the speech, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "merit" was a "condescending" term.

"Are they saying family is without merit? Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country, are without merit, because they don’t have an engineering degree?" Pelosi told reporters.

The plan was developed by 's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller, an adviser known for his hard line on immigration issues.

Democratic support would be needed to advance any legislation through the Republican-led Senate - let alone the Democratic-controlled House.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the White House for failing to consult with Democratic lawmakers, and said that showed the White House was not serious.

's plan included proposals to beef up security at the border to try to prevent people from crossing illegally and legal changes aimed at curbing a flood of Central American migrants seeking asylum.

But it left aside the thorny issue of how to deal with the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally - many for years - and protections for "Dreamer" children brought to the country illegally, a top priority for Democratic lawmakers.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Steve Holland, Makini Brice; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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