Former US president Donald Trump said he wants to grant green cards to foreign graduates from US colleges, in an apparent softening of his typically hard-line view on immigration, a key election issue.

The Republican candidate made the remarks in a podcast published on Thursday, days after President Joe Biden announced a citizenship pathway for immigrants married to US nationals, counterbalancing his recent crackdown on illegal border crossings.

“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 told the All-In podcast.

A green card is the commonly used name for a permanent resident card in the United States and a step toward citizenship.

Trump said this should include “anybody who graduates from a college”, including those who complete two-year programs, known as junior colleges, and doctoral graduates.

Asked initially on the podcast if he would promise to help import the “best and the brightest around the world to America”, Trump replied: “I do promise.”

He added: “I know of stories where people graduated from a top college, or from a college, and they desperately want to stay here… 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 multi-billionaires employing thousands and thousands of people,” Trump said.

He also said that US companies need “smart people”, adding that “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,” Trump added.

During Trump’s 2017-2021 presidency, he ordered the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and implemented a travel ban on people from mostly Muslim countries.

His comments came after Democrat opponent Biden on Tuesday relaxed visa rules for around half a million spouses of US nationals, making it easier for them to obtain citizenship.

The president also simplified the process for migrants who came to the United States illegally as children — known as “Dreamers” — to get work visas if they’ve graduated college and have a “high-skilled job offer.”

Biden — often accused of being soft on immigration by Republicans — earlier in June signed an executive order barring migrants who enter the United States illegally from claiming asylum when numbers surge past 2,500 in a day.

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