A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Stricter Public Benefits Requirements for U.S. Green Card and Visa Applicants

Individuals who have received public benefits before may become ineligible to apply for U.S. green card and other visa status.

The final rule for stricter public charge inadmissibility laws has been announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and will become effective in two months.  Intending immigrants as well as non-immigrant visa holders are both subject to the new requirements.

The "public charge" inadmissibility grounds prevents a foreigner from attaining a visa or admission to the country if he/she will likely rely heavily on government assistance programs. These currently include:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ("food stamps")
  • Most forms of Medicaid
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and public housing
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance
  • State and local General Assistance programs
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The definition of public charge has been expanded to cover more kinds of public benefits. Specifically, cash benefits for income, most forms of Medicaid, some housing programs, long-term institutionalized care (at government's expense), and Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

Furthermore, a public charge is now defined as someone who has received at least one public benefit in 12 months over 36 months. Multiple public benefits in one month will add to the 12 months. For example, two benefits in one month will count together as two months worth of benefits.

Nonimmigrants looking to extend or change their status will also be subject to public charge determination. USCIS will no longer consider whether a visa applicant is likely to receive public benefits in the future. They will look at any 36 months since the alien obtained their current status and count if 12 months worth of public benefits were received, as explained above.

Certain groups are exempt from the public charge rule. Those in the U.S. armed forces under active duty or Ready Reserve are exempt, including their spouse and children. Some international adoptees and children with U.S. citizen parents are not counted as public charges. Medicaid for aliens under 21 and pregnant women does not count toward public benefits under public charge. Medicaid benefits for school-based and emergency medical services also do not count. Humanitarian-based immigration programs for refugees, asylees, and certain kinds of victims are also not included.

Another notable change is the addition of public charge bonds for adjustment of status applicants. USCIS can now offer a foreigner inadmissible on public charge grounds the chance to post a bond in the minimum amount of $8,100. The rule also gives USCIS discretion to offer and cancel public charge bonds.

The final rule goes into effect on October 15th. It will be applied only to applications received on or after this day. 

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