Last Thursday, USCIS announced that the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds final rule (“Final Rule”) will be effective on February 24, 2020, except for the State of Illinois. USCIS announcement followed the Supreme Court stay of nationwide injunctions by a 5-4 vote on January 27. This Final Rule will expand the government’s ability to refuse green cards or visas for legal immigrants determined to be, or likely to become, at any time, a “public charge”. It makes more difficult for low-income immigrants to come to, or remain their legal status in the US.

“Public Charge” is a ground of inadmissibility, which means that an applicant could be denied a green card or visa application, or admission into the US based on this ground. Instead of considering whether an alien is “likely to become primarily dependent” on the government, the Final Rule defines a public charge as a “person who is likely to receive any number of public benefits for more than an aggregate of 12 months over any 36-minth period of time.” The Final Rule expands the definition of “public charge” comparing with the previous rule. What’s more, each benefit is counted toward the calculation. Under the Final Rule, USCIS will look at the factors including the alien’s age, health, income, education, skills, among others.

The Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli presented that, “Self-sufficiency is a core American value and has been part of immigration law for centuries.” “We will encourage self-sufficiency, promote immigrant success and protect American taxpayers.” (See USCIS Announces Public Charge Rule Implementation Following Supreme Court Stay of Nationwide Injunctions) The final rule provides guidelines for DHS regarding how to determine inadmissibility of an alien based on the likelihood of becoming a public charge at any time in the future; addresses USCIS’ authority to issue public charge bonds in the context of applications for adjustment of status; and includes a requirement that aliens seeking and extension of stay of change of status demonstrate that they have not received public benefits. The consideration regarding reception of certain non-cash public benefits before October 15, 2019 is prohibited when an alien’s application is reviewed.

Apparently, this rule aims to exclude and decimate low-income immigrants, including those who are in the US with full legal authorization and who are entitled to social services and benefits. This rule does not “protect American taxpayers” by changing welfare eligibility requirements, but by excluding legal immigrants from welfare. Also, this rule gives too much power to the immigration officials. Under the expanded rule, immigration officials may determine an alien inadmissible as a “possible public charge” even though the alien never used any kind of welfare before. USCIS will post updated forms, instructions, and guidance this week. For details regarding the Final Rule, please contact our office and consult with our immigration attorneys.