Immigration Law

More poor immigrants will be deemed likely ‘public charges’ and denied green cards under new rule

  • Print.

green card

Image from

A new rule set to take effect in two months will make it more difficult for immigrants to get a green card or permanent legal residence if they receive or are likely to receive government assistance.

The final rule, posted on the Federal Register website Monday, redefines the meaning of “public charge” and who is likely to be in that category in the future, report the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and the New York Times. A press release is here.

Being designated a “public charge” is already used to deny an extended stay or a change in status to an immigrant. Under the old definition, a public charge was someone who is primarily dependent on public assistance, defined as cash benefits.

The new definition of a public charge is broadened to include anyone who used has a public benefit—including Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance—for more than a year in the aggregate in any three-year period. Someone who used two benefits in one month, for example, would use up two months of their leeway.

There are exemptions for people who received Medicaid while pregnant or who received public benefits as a child.

The new rule also broadens the category of people likely to become a public charge who would be deemed inadmissible to the United States. Several negative and positive factors will be taken into account under a totality of the circumstances test.

According to the Washington Post, negative factors include:

• Financial liabilities.

• Having a medical condition likely to interfere with work or school.

• Not having enough money to cover reasonably foreseeable medical costs related to a medical condition.

• Lack of a college degree.

• Insufficient English language skills.

The public charge ground is not used against people exempted by Congress, including those who have received asylum or who are victims of trafficking.

The rule change won’t be applied retroactively.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the new rule will help ensure that immigrants seeking to enter and remain in the United States are self-sufficient.

The National Immigration Law Center describes the rule change as an attempt “to disenfranchise communities of color and favor the wealthy.” The center announced it will file a lawsuit to challenge the new rule.

Also criticizing the new policy is Irena Sullivan, senior immigration policy counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center.

Sullivan said the new rule is especially harmful for survivors of gender-based violence, who will remain economically dependent on their abusers when they are unable to access benefits. “We should not be punishing survivors who are already traumatized and in need of a lifeline,” Sullivan said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.