USCIS has proposed rules that could deny entry to non-immigrants seeking admission to the United States and adjustment of status to permanent residence to immigrants if they rely on public benefits for food, housing or medical care, and other forms of public assistance. The proposed rule – “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” – is published in the Federal Register. The public may comment on the proposed rule during the 60-day comment period ending on Dec. 10, 2018. USCIS will review comments to the proposed rule and then revise and issue a final public charge rule that will include an effective date. In the interim, and until a final rule is in effect, USCIS will continue to apply the current public charge policy.

Pursuant to Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to permanent resident (obtaining a green card) is inadmissible if the individual “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

Under 8 U.S.C. § 1601 (PDF)(1), “Self-sufficiency has been a basic principle of United States immigration law since this country’s earliest immigration statutes.”

Further under 8 U.S.C. § 1601 (PDF)(2)(A), “It continues to be the immigration policy of the United States that aliens within the Nation’s borders not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, their sponsors, and private organizations.”

While self-sufficiency has been the guiding principle of U.S. immigration law, as indicated in the above federal regulations, “public charge” has not been defined in statute or regulations. According to USCIS, there has been insufficient guidance on how to determine if an alien who is applying for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status is likely at any time to become a public charge. In determining inadmissibility USCIS has used the definition of “public charge” 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 institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” (See, “Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” 64 FR 28689 (May 26, 1999). In determining whether an alien meets this definition for public charge inadmissibility, USCIS considers several factors, including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills. No single factor will determine whether an individual is a public charge.

The proposed rule will apply to foreign nationals seeking admission to the United States on non-immigrant and immigrant visas, as well as those non-immigrants who have availed themselves of public benefits within the United States and are seeking to seeking to either extend their stay or change their status. Under the proposed rule, USCIS would only consider the direct receipt of benefits by the individual alien applicant. Receipt of benefits by dependents and other household members would not be considered in determining whether the alien applicant is likely to become a public charge.

Factors that would generally weigh heavily in favor of a finding that an individual is likely to become a public charge include the following:

  • The individual is not a full-time student and is authorized to work, but cannot demonstrate current employment, has no employment history, or no reasonable prospect of future employment;
  • The individual is currently receiving or is currently certified or approved to receive one or more of the designated public benefits above the threshold;
  • The individual has received one or more of the designated public benefits above the threshold within the 36 months immediately preceding the alien’s application for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status;
  • The individual has been diagnosed with a medical condition that is likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with the alien’s ability to support himself or herself, attend school, or work, and the alien is uninsured and has no prospect of obtaining private health insurance; or
  • The individual has previously been found inadmissible or deportable based on public charge.

Alternately, factors that would weigh strongly against a finding that a foreign national is likely to become a public charge include:

  • The individual has financial assets, resources, and support of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of the alien’s household size; or
  • The individual is authorized to work and is currently employed with an annual income of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of the alien’s household size.

This proposed rule could have wide-reaching effects on legal immigration to the United States. The rule proposes not only to define “public charge” and the factors to be considered in making current and prospective public charge determinations, but also to add requirements for “public charge bonds” for certain applicants who are more likely to become a public charge. It is important for interested parties to comment on this proposed rule by the Dec. 10, 2018 deadline.