What Should You Know About The New "Public Charge" Immigration Rules?

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Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an injunction preventing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from enforcing its new "public charge" rules. As a result, these rules are slated to go into effect on February 24, 2020. Learn more about the public charge rules and what it can mean for certain low-income immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship.

What Is the Public Charge Rule?

The public charge rule affects both current U.S. immigrants who want to adjust their status to get a green card and those seeking to enter the U.S. on a visa. Essentially, it's designed to reduce legal immigration and minimize the risk that an immigrant will take advantage of various public services (like food stamps, temporary cash assistance, low-income housing, or health insurance) to become a "public charge." By screening immigration applicants for anyone who has taken advantage of any of these services within the last few years, the USCIS will now have the power to decide whether an alien is likely to become a public charge in the future, and, if so, whether their entry to the U.S. should be blocked. 

Who Will This Rule Affect?

Under the version of the rule slated to go into effect on February 24, the USCIS can block admission of any immigrant who, for at least 12 of 36 total months, received social welfare benefits. These include Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance, cash benefits, subsidized daycare, and other public assistance, but do not usually include private assistance (such as that received from churches, food pantries, or relatives). 

What Can Immigrants Do to Avoid Application of This Rule? 

Receiving these benefits doesn't mean that an immigrant will automatically be blocked from gaining entry to (or a change of status in) the U.S., but it can make it much tougher. To overcome a presumption of non-independence, you'll need to provide substantial evidence to show that you and your immediate family members are not going to take advantage of any public benefits in the foreseeable future.

You may also need to explain your reasons for seeking benefits at the time and what you've done to change your life since then. For example, if you received food stamps and Medicaid while a student and are now earning a good income, you may be able to prove that this was a one-time bump in the road that doesn't impact your ability to support yourself and your family. By providing this sort of evidence, you may be able to increase the odds that your application will be approved. 

To learn more, contact your local immigration citizenship attorney.