The Trump administration announced at the end of last month that immigrants who rely on government aid such as food stamps and Section 8 housing assistance could be denied green cards and temporary visas if the administration’s proposed changes to the definition of “public charge” go into effect.
Not only would the move affect the applications of hundreds of thousands of immigrants attempting to become legal permanent residents—and eventually U.S. citizens—but force millions of poor immigrants to decide between receiving public benefits or living and working legally in the United States.
More than a century ago, Congress permitted the U.S. government officials to reject temporary visas and green cards to those who are most likely to become a public charge. In 1999, immigration officers determined immigrants considered a public charge are those who were most likely to primarily depend on government aid such as cash benefits (i.e. welfare or Supplementary Security Income).
The proposed rule would expand the definition to include non-cash benefits, such as food assistance, federal housing/rental assistance, and Medicaid. Additionally, immigration officials will be able to decide who can receive green cards or visas based on a wide range of “negative factors”.
Under the Trump administration’s proposal, any of the following factors are considered negative and likely result in being deemed a public charge:
- Currently or previously use certain government benefits
- Older than 61 years old
- Younger than 18 years of age
- Diagnosed with a medical condition which could impede work or school obligations
- Cannot afford health care coverage for a medical condition
- Do not possess private health insurance
- No history of employment
- No high school diploma or university degree
- No work or academic skills to obtain employment
- Cannot speak English
- Parent of several children or responsible for other dependents
- Low credit score
- Financial liabilities
- Obtain an application fee waiver from the Department of Homeland Security
- Represented by a sponsor whom DHS feels unlikely to stay committed
Government officials said they anticipated the proposed rule will become law after being posted to the Federal Register recently, which starts a 60-day period of review by legislators, advocacy groups, and the public. The new regulations could take months to take effect.