Acquiring a visa or green card in the U.S. can be an extraordinarily difficult process, and a recent policy may add additional hurdles for thousands of applicants.
On February 24th, USCIS implemented the new public charge rule. The concept of the public charge (i.e. a person who relies on government benefits) is not new to immigration law, but the new rule allows officers an unprecedented level of discretion when determining whether an applicant is or could become a public charge.
According to the new rule, any applicant who receives public benefits for more than 12 total months in a 3-year period is considered a public charge and can be denied a visa or green card. USCIS totals each type of benefit separately. For example, receiving 2 types of benefits for 8 months would equal 16 total months and could render the applicant ineligible. USCIS will only consider an applicant’s use of benefits on or after February 24, 2020.
For the purposes of this rule, public benefits include the following:
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- General Assistance (i.e. federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (i.e. food stamps)
- Medicaid (with some exceptions)
- Section 8 Housing Assistance/Project-Based Rental Assistance
- Public Housing under the Housing Act of 1937
You will NOT be penalized for using the following:
- Emergency medical assistance
- Disaster relief
- National school lunch programs
- School-based benefits, if the recipient is at or below the oldest eligible age for secondary education
- Food pantries/homeless shelters
- Head Start
- Energy assistance
- School loans
- Foster care/adoption subsidies
- Medicaid (if the recipient is under 21, is currently pregnant, was pregnant up to 60 days prior, or is using benefits under the Individuals with Disabilities Act)
Additionally, the following groups of people can use any public benefits without fear of becoming ineligible:
- U.S. servicemembers
- Refugees/asylum seekers
- Applicants under the Violence Against Women Act
- T or U Visa applicants/holders
- Special Immigrant Juveniles
- Iraqi or Afghan special immigrant visa holders
This rule is particularly concerning because USCIS can reject an applicant if the officer believes they are likely at any point to become a public charge. The adjudication process, therefore, is heavily subjective. The officer will consider not simply the applicant’s use of benefits but also a variety of other factors (e.g. income, assets, dependents, employment, education, and more).
What About Treatment for the Coronavirus?
Due to the public charge rule, many have canceled assistance programs and decided to forego vital medical care. But USCIS has stressed the importance of seeking medical treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following forms of COVID-19 related treatment/assistance will NOT affect your visa or green card eligibility based on the public charge rule:
- Preventative care (including vaccines, if available)
- Use of any public benefit to pay for the above care
Additionally, USCIS advises applicants who suffer economic hardship as a result of the pandemic to provide this as an explanation for their use of benefits.
Let Us Answer Any Questions You Have
If you are concerned about how the public charge rule could affect your eligibility for an immigration benefit, let us evaluate your situation and recommend the best way forward. At the Law Offices of James A. Welcome, our award-winning attorneys have the skills and years of experience needed to help you navigate complex immigration policies.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are scheduling free telephonic and video consultations. Call (203) 806-7922 to request an appointment with our firm today.