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Beware: Use of Public Benefits Could Make It Difficult to Obtain a Green Card

The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing a proposed rule which could greatly expand the definition of who is likely to become a “public charge.” The term “public charge” is currently defined as an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or long-term care at the government’s expense. A person is ineligible to receive a green card if the government determines he or she is likely to become a public charge.

Historically, non-cash benefits, such as Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) food stamps, housing benefits, child care services, and emergency disaster relief have not been considered when determining if someone is or will become a public charge. The Trump administration, however, is considering expanding the definition of public charge to include the use of non-cash benefits. Also, the proposed rule change extends to both the immigrant and their dependents, even if the dependents are U.S. citizen children.

The proposed expansion of the public charge rule would significantly impact a large portion of immigrant families. The Migration Policy Institute released a report in June 2018 which concluded that “the share of noncitizens who could face a public-charge determination based on benefits use would increase more than 15-fold—from 3 percent under the current policy to 47 percent under the terms of the [proposed] rule.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than half of all immigrant households use at least one benefit program. Proponents of the rule change argue that it is unfair to U.S. taxpayers for immigrants, or their dependents, to enjoy non-cash benefits. Adversaries to the proposed rule point out that immigrants actually pay more into the U.S. health care system than they take out.

For now, there is uncertainty as to what will happen, but one thing is certain: If the proposed rule becomes a reality, it will have far-reaching effects on legal immigration.