By: Chris Musillo

On August 14, 2019 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new “public charge” rule; this rule will go into effect on October 15, 2019. Under a longstanding law and policy, if immigration authorities determine someone is “likely to become a public charge” the US can deny the applicant’s green card or other visa to the US. A public charge is someone who is dependent on the government, through benefits programs. The Trump Administration’s new rule changes the standard by the DHS determines whether a foreign national is likely to become a public charge.

Under the previous policy, DHS examined whether an intending immigrant was primarily dependent on public benefits. Under the new rule, immigration officers will examine whether immigrants are likely at any time to become a public charge, using a multi-factor test.

Public benefits under the new rule include:
  1. Any federal, state, or local cash assistance, including:
    • Social Security Income (SSI)
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    • Government programs for income maintenance often called “general assistance”
  2. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also known as food stamps
  3. Section 8 Housing Assistance
  4. Medicaid, with certain exceptions
  5. Public Housing under Section 9

The immigration officer will take into account a broad range of factors and consider all of the following when making a determination if the foreign national visa applicant is likely to become a pubic charge:
  1. Receipt of a public benefit for more than 12 months in the aggregate within a 36 month period
  2. Age
  3. Health
  4. Family status
  5. Education and skills
  6. Assets, resources, and financial status

This rule will apply to all applicants for any type of visa, though it is expected that the immigration officers will look most closely at those applying for a green card. Employment-based visa applicants should be treated favorably because, by virtue of their employer-sponsor, they have guaranteed employment and income in the United States. However, policy experts forecast that this rule will likely be applied inconsistently and cause fewer legal immigrants to enter the United States.