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New US immigration rule could ease green card woes

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced proposals for a new US immigration public charge rule that would make it easier for immigrants in receipt of US benefits to obtain a green card. The new rule would mark a significant reversal on a 2019 Trump administration policy, which is no longer in effect since Biden took office.


The DHS said: “The proposals will dramatically scale back the number of benefits legal immigrants can use that would be held against them when applying for permanent residency in the US – including food stamps and Medicaid.”

In a statement, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, said: “Under this proposed rule, we will return to the historical understanding of the term ‘public charge,’ and individuals will not be penalized for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”


Public charge rule

The public charge rule has long been a feature of US immigration law, and refers to legal immigrants deemed likely to rely on US government assistance, grounds on which an individual’s US immigration status can be denied.

In 2019, former US President Donald Trump introduced a public charge rule that expanded the definition of public charge to include immigrants who receive one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months within a three-year period.

Whether an immigrant would be a public charge is considered when an applicant applies for US permanent residency.

The type of benefits that fell under the US immigration public charge rule during the Trump administration  include  Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as well as most forms of Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

Trump’s rule expanded the number of benefits that could be considered from interim guidance issued in 1999.


Protect taxpayers

Trump administration officials argued that the controversial public charge rule was ‘intended to protect taxpayers from bringing in more public charges from abroad and to make sure that immigrants coming to the US legally are self-sufficient’.

In an interview with Fox News at the time, former acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli, said: “The principle driving it is an old American value, and that’s self-sufficiency.”

“It’s a core principle — the American Dream itself — and it’s one of the things that distinguishes us, and it’s central to the legal history in the US back into the 1800s,” Cuccinelli added.


US immigration activists

However, US immigration activists and the Biden administration have argued that Trump’s rule made immigrants scared to access benefits in case it put their green card applications in jeopardy.

The Biden administration dropped its legal defense to challenges of the rule. However, Republican states have sought to take up that defense and now a Supreme Court fight on that front now seems inevitable. 

In his statement, Mayorkas said: “The 2019 public charge rule was not consistent with our nation’s values.”

According to a Fox News report, under the new rule proposed by the Biden administration, SSI, TANF, state, tribal and local cash assistance for income maintenance and ‘long-term institutionalization at government expense’ would still all be considered when officials make a public charge determination.


Ignoring some taxpayer-funded benefits

However, the administration is also proposing ‘ignoring’ several other taxpayer-funded benefits, which foreign nationals would be able to receive without it ever being held against them on US green card applications. 

These benefits include SNAP/food stamps, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), most Medicaid benefits, housing benefits and transportation vouchers.

Meanwhile, the DHS has said that it would also not consider any disaster assistance, pandemic assistance such as tax credits, or Social Security, government pensions or any other benefit that is earned by paying contributions into the system.

The public charge rule affects immigrants who are going through the regular US immigration process and are in the country legally on a non-immigrant (temporary) US visa and are applying for a green card.

Under current immigration laws, asylum seekers, refugees, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients are not subjected to a public charge assessment. 

The proposed new public charge rule is part of the Biden administration’s effort to ‘realign the US immigration system’ with what it believes is a more welcoming approach to immigrants. USCIS recently updated its mission statement declaring the US to be a ‘nation of welcome’. can help with US employment-based visas

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