Former President Donald Trump said on Thursday that noncitizens attending American universities should “automatically” get a green card upon graduating, an unconventional strategy he pitched as a way to attract “brilliant people” to the country.

During a virtual appearance on the “All-In” podcast, Trump joined the show’s panel of venture capitalists to discuss various topics related to his presidential campaign and the issues facing the country. Midway through the interview, investor Jason Calacanis asked the former president about the country’s need for skilled workers.

“Every time we get somebody superintelligent—from India or Europe, any country—and we can get those great people into our country, that’s a loss for our adversaries and our competitors, and it’s a gain for us,” Calacanis said. “But I’ve never heard you talk about this. Can you please promise us that you will give us more ability to import the best and brightest around the world to America?”

“What I want to do, and 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,” Trump replied. “And that includes junior colleges too. Anybody graduates from a college — you go in there for two years or four years. If you graduate, or you get a doctorate degree from a college, you should be able to stay in this country.”

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Trump continued:

I know of 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 go back to India, they go back to China, they do the same basic company in those places, and they become multibillionaires who employ thousands and thousands of people, and it could have been done here.

And a bigger example is, you need a pool of people to work for your companies—you have great companies—and they have to be smart people. Not everybody can be less than smart. You need brilliant people.

The people that graduate from college, the people that are No. 1 in their class at the best colleges, you have to be able to recruit these people.

Somebody graduates at the top of the class, they can’t even make a deal with a company because they don’t think they’re going to be able to stay in the country. That is going to end on day one.

The former president did not provide specific details of what this policy might entail if he returns to the White House in 2025, making it difficult to determine how many people would benefit from this program. However, per the Higher Ed Immigration Portal, in 2022, 5.8 million foreign-born students were enrolled in American universities, accounting for 32 percent of the nation’s students. The latest estimates from 2023 suggest that there are as many as 408,000 “undocumented” students enrolled in the higher education system.

Many foreign-born students are already granted legal resident status prior to enrolling, but those who live in the US on temporary measures like student visas would benefit from a green card program once their visas expire.

On Friday, Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt clarified that this proposed policy would only apply to a very select group of skilled, “thoroughly vetted” noncitizen graduates.

“President Trump has outlined the most aggressive vetting process in U.S. history, to exclude all communists, radical Islamists, Hamas supporters, America haters and public charges,” Leavitt said. “He believes, only after such vetting has taken place, we ought to keep the most skilled graduates who can make significant contributions to America. This would only apply to the most thoroughly vetted college graduates who would never undercut American wages or workers.”

Related: Non-Citizens Are Being Handed Voter Registration Forms Throughout US

While this proposal has been seen as a sudden departure from Trump’s decidedly anti-immigration campaign trail rhetoric, the former president actually expressed support for a similar policy in 2015, during his first run for office.

At the time, however, the idea was much more popular with then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who pledged to “staple” a green card to master’s and doctoral diplomas in science, technology, engineering, and math. Immigration hardliners within the Trump camp said that this policy would “turn colleges into visa mills,” but Trump himself did not speak out against it.

In response to Trump’s comments, US Tech Workers, a nonprofit that advocates “on behalf of American workers harmed by employment visa programs,” said that the idea “isn’t America first.”

“Stapling a Green Card to a college diploma would incentivize universities to turn into de facto immigration centers—a problem both Canada and the UK are currently dealing with which has only led to voter backlash against immigration,” the group wrote on X. “It’s a terrible policy.”

The full episode of the “All-In” podcast can be viewed here:

Connor Walcott is a staff writer for Follow Connor on X and look for him on VT’s “The Unusual Suspects.”

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