By Marnie Kunz
After a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court on January 27, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security will implement a new expansion to the “Public Charge” rule. The new public charge rule expands the definition of who would become a “public charge,” so, for immigrants applying for visas, it will be harder to get green cards. The new ruling will go into effect on February 24, 2020. The new public charge rule will apply to immigrants applying for visas or green cards processed inside the U.S., including immigrants that leave for 180 days or more and apply to reenter.
The new public charge rule will prevent immigrants who may become “a public charge” by using public assistance for a certain period of time from obtaining visas.
What Is Public Charge?
Under the new “public charge” rule, a person could be denied a green card, visa, or admission into the United States if the applicant is likely to become a public charge and use resources such as government assistance for housing or medical care. The public charge rule itself is not a new concept, but with the new law, more people will be deemed a “public charge” and will not be able to get green cards.
Some factors that the government will look at with visa applicants is the age, health, income, education, and skills, and English abilities of an applicant to determine whether the applicant is likely at any time to become a public charge. Also, any history of government assistance that occurs after February 24, 2020, will be calculated in determining if an individual will become a public charge.
The new public charge rule will go into effect on February 24, 2020, except in Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined. The public charge final rule will apply to a green card or a visa application postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.
Who Is Affected by Public Charge?
Public charge applies to immigrants seeking visas. The new public charge rule does not apply to all immigrants. Most immigrants who are affected are those seeking permanent residency — or green cards — through family member petitions. The new public charge rule also applies to immigrants who submit applications to adjust their status in the United States.
Immigrant categories that are exempt from the new public charge rule include U visa holders, T visa holders, refugees, and asylees.
What Does Public Charge Mean?
The new rule widens the definition of “public charge” from the previous definition.
In the past, the law defined a public charge as a person who is primarily dependent on the government for income support. It did not include other benefits such as Medicaid or housing assistance.
The new rule includes more forms of government assistance, defining a public charge as a person who is likely to receive any number of public benefits for more than a total of 12 months over any 36-month period of time. Each benefit that a person uses counts toward the 12-month calculation. So, if an applicant is likely to receive two different benefits in one month — such as Medicaid and SNAP benefits, for instance — that counts as two months’ use of benefits.
Public Charge Test
Under the new public charge rule, immigrants who receive vital health, housing, and nutrition program benefits, including federally funded Medicaid, SNAP benefits, and Section 8 housing benefits, will be at risk of not being approved for visas. Until now, the use of most public benefits was not a barrier to obtaining legal immigration status in the United States.
The new public charge rule will give immigration officers the power to decide if a person is accepted to gain legal entry to the U.S. In addition to examining past receipt of government benefits, immigration officials will look at other factors such as the applicant’s age, health, household size, education, employment, and financial resources. The new public charge rule allows immigration officers to consider English proficiency (positive) or lack of English proficiency (negative), a person’s credit score, medical conditions and whether the person has access to private health insurance as well.
The new public charge rule will require immigrants to attach a new form, I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency, when applying for a green card as part of an adjustment application.