If you’re applying for a green card, you probably already know that you have to prove you won’t be an economic burden — a “public charge” on American society. Recently, however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new proposal that could make it harder for some immigrants to prove that.

Under the proposal, accepting certain public benefits above a specific threshold — or having accepted them in the past — would be “a heavily weighted negative factor” to be considered in green card applications and other immigration petitions.

Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) already says that people seeking admission to the U.S., attempting to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident, or seeking to extend a nonimmigrant status, are inadmissible if they are “likely at any time to become a public charge.”

According to the DHS, the 447-page proposal “will clearly define long-standing law to ensure that those seeking to enter and remain in the United States either temporarily or permanently can support themselves financially and will not be reliant on public benefits.”

Not all public benefits count toward a ‘public charge’ determination

Under the DHS proposal, some benefits that could be counted against immigrants include:

  • Cash assistance for income maintenance
  • Medicare Part D low income subsidies
  • Medicaid, with certain exceptions for emergency medical conditions and disability services related to education
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (food stamps)
  • Long-term institutionalization at government expense
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Public housing

There would be either monetary or time-based thresholds used to determine whether receipt of the benefit renders you inadmissible. In addition, a person could be considered likely to become a public charge if they receive more than one type of benefit despite being under the threshold for each.

Public benefits that would not affect admissibility under the proposal include:

  • Emergency medical assistance
  • Disaster relief
  • National School Lunch Program
  • Foster care and adoption assistance
  • Head Start

The rule will not have an impact upon immigrants that have been specifically exempted from the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility by Congress. This includes:

  • Refugees and asylees
  • Afghans and Iraqis with special immigrant visas
  • Nonimmigrant trafficking and crime victims
  • People applying for protection under the Violence Against Women Act
  • Special immigrant juveniles

Many immigration advocates worry that a 447-page proposal will do the opposite of clarifying the law. They also worry that the proposal will induce many immigrants to withdraw from aid programs they rely on because they fear being denied green cards or other immigration benefits. This could mean losing shelter or suffering deteriorating health.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the proposal will soon be published to the Federal Register, which is where the government publishes regulations to be considered. Once it has been published to the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day period for the public to comment on the rule. The next step will be for the DHS to consider the public’s comments and any proposed changes. After that, the final rule will go into effect.

Act quickly to petition before the rule changes

If you or a non-citizen family member has accepted public benefits, this proposal could make it harder for you to extend your stay or adjust your status to lawful permanent residence. Contact Yew Immigration Law Group right away to discuss your situation. We have years of experience in immigration law and we may be able to help you show you are not likely to become a public charge.