A longstanding barrier to entry into the United States for US immigrants has been their income. If a potential immigrant is deemed to be a public charge or “state burden”, they’re automatically barred from applying for residency.
However, a new Department of Homeland Security regulation changes this definition. Let’s take a look at what this means and how it could impact application figures.
Understanding the Regulations for US Immigrants
The term “public charge” is one that’s existed in American immigration law since the late 19th century. In short, it means someone who will be dependent on state assistance. It shouldn’t be a surprise that any country would want too many US immigrants relying on state assistance, as this creates a potential imbalance of resources.
How the law defines a public charge is subject to change, though, as evidenced in the new regulations. During the Trump administration, the definition was expanded to include a much wider range of state aid, including:
- Housing vouchers
- Food stamps
Trump-era rules also launched a more in-depth test to determine whether an applicant could need this assistance in the future. Considering around 40 million Americans used food vouchers in 2019, it’s not necessarily the best marker of whether someone will be an economic burden on the state.
Public Charge Tests for US Immigrants
The method for testing whether an US Immigrants will become a public charge is also subject to change. The Trump administration expanded the basic test to include far more in-depth criteria, such as family size, potential medical conditions, and current income levels.
It did this to curb immigration levels, and to restrict immigration to high-earning “healthy” families that weren’t too big. While there is potentially some logic in this (it’s not dissimilar to Australia’s system), it goes against the founding principles of the American Dream.
On the other hand, the Biden administration stripped the test back to its basics. These consider an applicant’s age, education level, resources, and assets. It shouldn’t be a surprise that these are the minimum factors, although there is some flexibility in deciding how they impact someone’s application.
For example, an elderly person could be seen as a public charge if they’re past a typical working age. But if their family includes healthy working adults who can care for them, there’s theoretically no reason why they should be accepted.
USCIS officials carry out this test as part of every green card application. Although there aren’t set definitions of someone’s income or health status, the factors are considered together as a whole to make an accurate determination of someone’s potential need for state assistance.
Changes to the Rules for low-income US Immigrants
However, under the Biden administration, these rules will become far more relaxed. The important difference is that applicants will now only be rejected if they’ll be primarily dependent on government assistance in the long term. The examples the regulations give are long-term institutionalization (such as prison, psychiatric care, etc.) or public cash benefit programs, such as Supplemental Security Income.
But what will this actually mean in real terms? Essentially, it takes a more liberal view that financial circumstances can change, particularly if your basis for being in a country is employment.
For example, if someone were to apply for a green card due to a job, the old rules could bar them from entering the country if their new position didn’t have much job security. This could be something like a temporary or fixed-term position. But the new regulations allow more leeway in switching jobs or temporary financial hardship.
Defining the Changes
One thing worth noting, though, is that these new regulations don’t expand an immigrant’s eligibility for state aid. For example, if an immigrant were to need food vouchers or housing assistance, they would still have to go through the normal application and eligibility requirements, just as everyone else would.
The difference is that the DHS’s new rules clarify what they mean by public charge. As mentioned, this is a term that can change based on the current administration’s stance on immigration. It’s therefore not necessarily a groundbreaking update, although it will likely make US immigrants feel more comfortable when applying.
What does this mean for future applicants?
The new regulations will come into effect on December 23, 2022. But what effect will this have on future application numbers?
It could potentially mean an increase in the number of applicants for green cards, particularly for employment and family reasons. In the 2021 fiscal year, the government recorded 648,000 green card applications.
There’s every chance this figure will increase due to the new regulation changes, as applicants will feel more confident in their ability to apply for state aid. If nothing else, it sends a more inviting message than the previous administration’s hardline stance on immigration.
Also, it’s worth noting that the public charge rules only apply to employment- and family-based green card applications. Those applying through refugee and asylum programs, among others, aren’t subject to the public charge rule. Unsurprisingly, this is because their situations are more delicate in terms of finding work and, ultimately, their choice of where to settle down.
How many US immigrants are in the USA in Today?
An analysis of the the Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) shows that the total foreign-born population (legal and illegal) in the United States of America hit record high 47 million in 2022. This is the highest US immigrants numbers ever seen in the American history. The foreign-born population includes all persons who are not United States Citizens at birth. For more information about U.S. Immigration statistics by year you can find relevant information on Wikipedia
Choosing the best route to Green Card status for US Immigrants.
The most common reasons for applying for a green card are work and family ties. However, if neither of those apply, you can still try to get a green card through the Diversity US Immigrant Visa Program.
This allows US immigrants to obtain a Green Card without any previous ties to the USA and will cover the applicant and their immediate family to live and work in the country. It’s worth noting that the public charge rules do still apply, but this is only determined after someone is selected as a winner.
Although no green card route is easy, the Green Card Lottery is arguably the most straightforward if you don’t have a US-based sponsor.
US Green Card Office can help low-income US Immigrants submit their applications successfully, while also guiding you through the whole process from start to finish. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you apply, get in touch or apply online here: www.usgreencardoffice.com/apply