On August 12, 2019, USCIS announced a new rule which identifies any individual who is likely to become a public charge as inadmissible. Under the new regulation issued by the Trump Administration, a foreign national can be categorized as a public charge solely on the basis that he or she accepted a government-offered public benefit. The crux of this interpretation states that any foreign national who has utilized the resources of a public benefit program for more than twelve months over a three-year period can be deemed permanently ineligible for lawful admission to the United States.

What benefits fall within the scope of the public charge inadmissibility ground? The enumerated benefits include:

  • Cash Benefits for Income Maintenance
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Most forms of Medicaid
  • Section 8 Project-Based Housing Assistance
  • Subsidized Public Housing

When determining whether a foreign national falls within the public charge category, USCIS applies the totality of the circumstances test which includes a collective analysis of various factors in that individual’s life, such as health and family status. Under the new regulation, USCIS may additionally assess whether the individual who is seeking immigration status has ever received any form of public assistance. Although receiving a public benefit is not the only element considered under the totality of the circumstances test, it is evident that this new level of scrutiny towards those seeking citizenship aims to further restrict legal migration to the United States.

Whether a foreign national is arriving at the border for re-entry or the individual is seeking to adjust his or her status long after lawfully entering the United States, the act of receiving government assistance, alone, now creates a blockade on the pathway to permanent residency.

The Department of Homeland Security asserts that this interpretation of the public charge ground for inadmissibility is not targeted at specific social or ethnic groups, however, the ramifications of this change will be felt by thousands of individuals seeking to change their immigration status. This new regulation can be billed as an adverse change in existing law as it clearly seeks to exclude low income individuals from gaining lawful status in the United States.