As if it weren’t already hard enough to gain legal permanent residency in the U.S., in October of 2019 the current administration attempted to institute a new regulation requiring an aggressive wealth test of green card applicants. Referred to as “inadmissibility on public charge grounds,” the rule makes it easier for the government to deny legal permanent residency (and other visa types) if it believes an immigrant is likely to receive certain public benefits in the future. Fortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that the final rule on the “inadmissibility on public charge grounds” cannot be enforced, though, if the rule were to become enforceable, it would make it much harder for those who are not already financially successful to come to the U.S., while also jeopardizing the ability of those who are already legally in the country to stay.
The notion of permanent residency being denied out of concern than an immigrant become a public charge is nothing new. Since 1999, prospective new arrivals have had to prove they will not become “primarily dependent” on certain cash welfare programs. The new legislation adds food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing to the list of public benefits that can jeopardize a person’s ability to attain residency. In addition, it removes the “primarily dependent” clause, allowing the government to designate someone a public charge if they use any of these benefits for 12 months in a 36-month period.
Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, has referred to the policy change as “weaponizing programs that are intended to help people.” Her concern is that vast numbers of immigrants will forego needed benefits for fear of retribution by authorities. Granted that the new rule puts nearly half of all new immigrants are at risk of visa denial, this fear seems justified.
Making assessment of the financial resources of immigrants a central part of the visa granting process has long been a part of President Trump’s sought-after immigration reform. In January of 2018 the U.S. Department of State published revised sections of its Foreign Affairs Manual. This change proved to be a forecast of the regulation that is the subject of this article. Changes such as these fly in the face of the Statue of Liberty’s famed invitation—Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—and impose extreme anxiety on those seeking to settle in the U.S.
If you are a new immigrant to the United States and are concerned about your right to remain in the country or your ability to attain legal permanent residency in the future, it would be our pleasure to discuss your case. While the map may be shifting, with knowledge as your compass you may yet chart your intended course.
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