On Monday, January 27, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order that allows the public charge policy proposed by the Trump administration to take effect nationwide (except in Illinois). The decision will profoundly impact immigrants seeking to obtain green cards (lawful permanent residency), whether they are already in the country or are looking to immigrate here. Those most affected will be individuals in lower-income brackets.
Rule Change Initially Blocked by Injunctions
The changes to the public charge rule were introduced in August of 2019. However, judges in various states issued injunctions that effectively blocked the updates from taking place across the country. However, proponents of the rule change said that these injunctions slowed down the government's processes, and the one issued by a New York judge was appealed to the Supreme Court.
What Is a Public Charge?
Under USCIS policy, “public charge” refers to individuals that are likely to primarily depend on the government for subsistence. This may be demonstrated by the receipt of public cash assistance or long-term care at government expense. The public charge rule has deep roots in history and was established to provide assistance to immigrants seeking lawful residency in the U.S. It allows individuals with lower incomes to obtain government benefits to give them access to necessities like food, housing, and health care. A person is considered a public charge if the assistance they receive makes up more than half of their income.
Since 1996, the public charge rule only applied to individuals getting specific benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security – what are considered cash benefits.
However, under the Trump administration's proposed changes, the definition of a public charge would become broader. The new policies will include more programs, which means more people would be given the public charge designation.
The rule doesn't just apply to immigrants looking to enter the U.S.; it also applies to them while they're in the country. This means if the government believes that at any time the individual might rely on benefits, they can be designated a public charge, and their ability to obtain a green card would be limited.