Public Charge Rule Takes Effect


On Monday, February 24, 2020, the Trump administration began enforcing stringent income-based requirements for green cards and certain visas, instituting the most ambitious unilateral effort in recent history to change the nation's legal immigration system.

Most green card applicants in the U.S. and abroad will now be subjected to a redefined "public charge" test. Under the rules by the Departments of State and Homeland Security, immigration officials have more power to deny applications from petitioners they deem are, or could become, an economic burden on the country.

Since it unveiled the final regulation last summer, the administration has portrayed it as a way to promote "self-sufficiency" among immigrant communities. "(The rule) enforces longstanding law requiring aliens to be self-sufficient, reaffirming the American ideals of hard work, perseverance and determination," said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrant advocates and Democrats, however, say the rule amounts to a wealth test that will revive a discriminatory immigration system that shuts America's doors to low-income and working-class immigrants from the developing world.

Under the new regulation, caseworkers would consider enrollment in the widely used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), certain federally funded Medicaid benefits and a variety of forms of government-subsidized housing, including the popular Section 8 vouchers. Officials would deem an immigrant a "public charge" and deny the application if they determine he or she is more likely than not to use one of the considered benefits for 12 months or longer over the span of three years.

To determine whether prospective immigrants are likely to become a "public charge," caseworkers would also take into account their income, assets, age, educational skills, English language proficiency, health and other factors. Since those expected to be affected by the rule are not eligible for most public benefits because they are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, critics of the regulation say it is designed to severely restrict immigration based on those factors.

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