The term “public charge” is used in immigration law to refer to an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for support by receipt of cash assistance or long-term care at the government’s expense.
Whether someone is likely to become a public charge is considered when a person applies for a nonimmigrant or immigrant visa to enter the United States and when they apply for adjustment of status (to obtain a green card). An immigration officer must look at the totality of circumstances when deciding whether a person will become a public charge. They can consider factors such as age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, and education and skills in their overall analysis. Any persons who are deemed to become a public charge will not be able to obtain the immigration benefit that they are seeking.
On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) introduced a new rule regarding public charge. The rule will soon take effect. The rule is likely to negatively affect many immigrants by expanding the list of publicly funded programs that officers can consider when deciding if someone will become a public charge. Under the proposed rule, past and current use of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Section 8 housing assistance, and the Low-Income Subsidy for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit can be used as evidence that a green card or visa applicant is inadmissible under the public charge ground.
The DHS proposal would also allow immigration officers to consider English proficiency as well as use of all cash aid including state and local cash assistance programs.
Under the DHS rule, consideration would be given not only to whether an applicant was so poor that they were likely to receive certain U.S. government benefits, but also to whether the applicant received these benefits already.
While the DHS proposed rule remains under development, the Department of State has already revised the Foreign Affairs Manual to tighten the public charge analysis. U.S. consulates around the world have already been applying these new policies, which have led to an increase in visa denials. From October 2018 through July 2019, the State Department has denied 5,343 immigrant visa applications for Mexican nationals based on public charge grounds. That is up from only seven denials in 2016!
U.S. consulates in other countries have also begun denying more visa applicants on the public charge ground. For example, the U.S. consulates in Bangladesh and Pakistan refused more than 2,700 applicants in the most recent fiscal year, a sharp increase over previous years.
This new change to the public charge assessment is just one of numerous actions that the Administration has taken and will continue to pursue in order to restrict immigration to the United States. Sadly, many immigrant families are suffering the effects.