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Public Charge Rule May Affect Thousands of Green Card Applications

The Department of Homeland Security recently tightened existing restrictions for permanent residency by updating the public charge ground of inadmissibility.

After the Supreme Court lifted several injunctions, the new public charge rule went into effect on February 24, 2020. In terms of immigration, a “public charge” is a person who relies upon government assistance because they aren’t self-sufficient. According to USCIS, the public charge ground of inadmissibility is more than 100 years old, but the new rule gives officers a much more expansive realm of authority when determining whether an applicant is or could become a public charge.

According to the new definition, a public charge is a person who has used certain publicly funded benefits for more than a total of 12 months in any 36-year period. Each type of benefit, however, is counted individually.

For example, if an immigrant receives food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for 7 months, USCIS will see this as 7 months of food stamps PLUS 7 months of TANF. The immigrant, therefore, will likely become ineligible for a green card.

Additionally, USCIS will evaluate a variety of other factors, including age, health, financial status, resources, employment, and more. After compiling this evidence, officers can subjectively conclude that the applicant is (or is likely at any point to become) a public charge.

Does USCIS Consider All Public Benefits?

Fortunately, many types of benefits are exempt from the public charge rule. If a benefit is not in the list of considered benefits, you can safely apply for and receive it without adversely affecting your green card application.

Exempt benefits include:

  • National school lunch programs
  • Foster care/adoption
  • Disaster relief
  • Emergency medical support
  • Student loans and mortgages
  • Energy assistance
  • Homeless shelters, food pantries, and Head Start
  • Benefits received by U.S. service members and/or their spouses and children

One of the benefits USCIS does consider is Medicaid, but this has certain exceptions as well. You can still be eligible for a green card if you used Medicaid for emergency medical treatment, for a benefit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as a person under 21, or as a woman during pregnancy or during the 60-day period after pregnancy.

You may become ineligible, however, if you used the following benefits for more than 12 total months in a 3-year period:

  • TANF
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously called food stamps)
  • Non-exempt forms of Medicaid
  • Housing Assistance or Project-Based Rental Assistance under Section 8
  • Public Housing under Section 9

Is Anyone Exempt from the Public Charge Rule?

Several classes of immigrants and nonimmigrants will not be affected by the public charge rule. These include:

  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • T or U visa applicants/recipients (victims of trafficking/crime)
  • Those applying under the Violence Against Women Act
  • Special Immigrant Juveniles
  • Afghans or Iraqis with special immigrant visas

You may also be able to acquire a waiver of public charge inadmissibility.

Contact Our Firm for Personalized Counsel

If you are applying for permanent residency, the Law Offices of Sholeh Iravantchi can help you determine how the public charge rule could affect your eligibility. We have assisted countless immigrants who believed they could never accomplish their goals because of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Because we believe in your right to live and work in the U.S., we can work tirelessly to help you obtain a waiver, freeze a removal proceeding, or even overcome a criminal conviction.

Get started with a free consultation. Call our firm at (714) 619-9303 today!