The federal government recently announced a change to immigration policy that could make it more difficult for those who have entered the United States legally to obtain permanent lawful status needed to remain in this country. According to varying estimates by the Department of Homeland Security and immigration advocacy groups, the new regulation, which goes into effect on Oct. 15th, could affect at least hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of people across the country, including Nebraska. Referred to as the “public charge rule,” it will take immigrants’ use or predicted use of government aid programs into account when determining eligibility for green cards.
Immigration law in the United States has included a public charge provision since 1882. What the new rule reportedly changes is the definition of a public charge. In theory, the term refers to someone who becomes a burden on the public. The most recent definition of what it means to be a public charge is someone who receives more than half of his or her support from the government.
Under the new rule, an immigrant who uses one or more of several government assistance programs, including food stamps, housing vouchers or Medicaid, could become a public charge in the eyes of the law. This is a change from the previous policy which included only cash benefits, like Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, toward a person’s income in the interest of determining whether more than half is from the government.
The rule change applies not only to those who seek to enter the United States now or in the future, but those who are already living in the U.S. with an eye toward gaining permanent legal status with a green card. One’s use of government assistance is one of several criteria that immigration officials will reportedly look at in determining one’s eligibility for legal status. The others include age, health, education, family status, skills and financial resources.
There are exceptions to the rule. It will not apply to asylum-seekers or refugees. Active-duty members of the U.S. military are exempt. There are also exceptions in place for emergency medical care and Medicaid coverage for those less than 21 years old and women who are pregnant.
Given that immigrants tend to consume fewer government benefits less often than native-born Americans, the new rule is perplexing. It may be helpful to consult an attorney for questions about immigration policy.