Trump was to roll out the policy in the White House's Rose Garden, live on television, for maximum impact.
His bid for reshaping immigration is highly unlikely to get far in Congress, where the issue has become a political quagmire.
But for Trump, who has made stemming illegal immigration a key plank in his presidency, the new proposal will feed directly into his 2020 re-election bid.
Under the proposals, the United States would welcome better educated people and those with job offers, while pushing back the large-scale influx of poor immigrants and asylum seekers overwhelming immigration facilities on the US-Mexican border.
Immigrants would have to demonstrate professional skills, English language proficiency and pass a US civics test, according to media previews of the proposal.
The system "has been broken for decades," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. "We're trying to do something that would modernize it and help us bring people into this country."
A notable aspect of the plan, which has been coordinated by Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, is a cut to current allowances for immigrants bringing in family members.
That rule, for example, allowed Trump's Slovenian-born wife Melania to obtain US citizenship for her parents last year.
Despite this, Trump regularly lambasts so-called "chain migration" and says he wants to reorient to allowing in people on a more competitive basis.
"The president wants people to come into the country. He wants them to come in legally. He wants them to come in prepared and ready to easily assimilate into our workforce and help grow America and contribute to it," Sanders said.
Political dead end
Trump's ideas are so unlikely to get a vote in Congress that analysts see his policy splash as more of a campaign speech than a serious bid to get legislation enacted.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a key ally of Trump in Congress, signaled his lack of enthusiasm by releasing his own proposal Wednesday and commenting: "The White House's plan is not designed to become law, (while) this is designed to become law."
For politicians on the right, Trump's plan fails because it does not seek to diminish overall immigration numbers. On the left, it is dead on arrival because it ignores a drive to give legal status to people brought by illegal immigrants as young children, known as "Dreamers."
Cornell University Law School professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration expert, said Trump's proposal "has some ideas worth considering," but is so incomplete in addressing the broader complications in the system that Congress will not take it seriously.
As Yale-Loehr noted, immigration reform has bedeviled Washington for years and is even less likely to see progress in Congress ahead of elections.
"Immigration reform is always difficult. Congress hasn't revised our legal immigration system since 1990," he said.