Immigration and Public Benefits
December 11, 2018
The Trump Administration recently proposed a new immigration policy regulation that could have a major impact on immigrants seeking to obtain permanent residency in the United States. Under the proposed changes to the “public charge” rule, individuals who are deemed likely to use public benefits, including food stamps or Medicaid, face a greater likelihood of being barred from obtaining a green card.
The existing “public charge” regulation states immigrants who receive over half of their income from public assistance are considered “primarily dependent” on the government and can be denied a visa on that basis. Currently, only cash benefits such as Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families currently fall into the income category. This would drastically change under the new rules.
Effects of the Proposed Changes
Under the proposed changes, the receipt of the following public benefits could be used to support a visa application denial on the basis of “public charge”:
- Supplemental Security Income (issued by Social Security)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (such as food stamps)
- Housing Assistance (including Section 8 Housing)
- Medicare drug-subsidies
The proposed regulation also significantly revises the definition of a “public charge” to include any immigrant who receives the equivalent of at least 15% of federal poverty guidelines; approximately $1,800.00 per year.
Even individuals who are not currently receiving these benefits, but who are deemed to have a high probability of needing public assistance in the future, can be classified as a public charge.
Who is Impacted
Immigrants potentially affected by the proposal include first-time visa applicants, along with individuals seeking visa extensions. Almost 400,000 immigrants currently living in the United States could be impacted by the proposed regulations.
Even immigrants who may need only temporary government assistance could be penalized under the proposed changes. Refugees would be exempt from the proposed policy changes.
Although qualifying as a public charge does not lead to an automatic visa denial, it would be a strong negative factor in the visa application acceptance formula. Other factors in the formula include an applicant’s current medical conditions and level of education.
Critics of the proposed regulation argue that the new rules would be a step closer to the Trump Administration’s ultimate goal of a “merit based” immigration system, which gives immigration priority to English-speaking immigrants who are highly educated and have a higher earning potential.
Lower income and less educated immigrants from countries such as China, Mexico, and Cuba would be at a greater disadvantage under the proposed regulation.
Immigrant advocacy groups also fear the proposed regulation could force legal residents to refuse necessary public assistance at the risk of their U.S. born children. A decrease in the use of public assistance could increase the spread of communicable diseases, the number of malnutrition cases, the level of poverty, and the number of individuals using emergency rooms as their primary form of health care.
Following its publication in the Federal Register, the public has sixty days to submit comments on the proposed regulation. The Department of Homeland Security, by law, must review all submitted comments and address substantial concerns prior to proposing a final version of the rule.
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If you or a loved one needs assistance with immigration issues, including visa applications, deportation, asylum, and green cards, an experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyer at the Law Offices of MC Law Group, LLC is here to help. For a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-496-0690 or contact us online.