On 06/03/22, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its Public Charge Resource webpage to clearly inform immigrants and U.S. citizens. This will help alleviate any concerns they may have about accessing essential government services that are available to them.

The 1999 Interim Field Guidelines still in effect.

The Interim Field Guidelines of 1999, particularly Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, continue to be used by USCIS. This law provides that a non-citizen is inadmissible on the ground of public charge. “Public charge is therefore a ground of inadmissibility. This means that the grounds of inadmissibility are then the reasons why a person could be denied a green card, a visa, or entry into the United States.

When deciding whether to grant a green card or visa to an applicant, immigration officials must determine whether that person is likely to depend on certain government benefits in the future, making them a “public charge.” While this process is not applicable for everyone, or even for everyone applying for a green card, it has yet to leave thousands of non-citizen families fearful.

It is this fear of non-citizens, and sometimes their comments on public inquiries, that USCIS is committed to updating its Q&A section to reassure those affected.

Changes made by the previous administration on the issue of public charges

The Trump administration’s 2019 changes to public charge policy and other immigration policy changes have increased concerns among immigrant families about participating in programs and seeking assistance services, including insurance and health care.

Although few individuals subject to public charge determinations are eligible to participate in the public programs listed in the 2019 rule due to immigration program eligibility restrictions, the rule has still had a broader deterrent effect on immigrant families participating in the program.

Fear and confusion about the rules lead individuals to choose not to enroll themselves and their children in the program. KFF estimates that the rule could result in the disenrollment of 2.0 to 4.7 million Medicaid and CHIP participants who are non-citizens or citizens living with non-citizens.

This equates to a disenrollment rate of between 15% and 35%. Other KFF surveys conducted in 2021 show low participation rates, with many non-citizen families unwilling to participate in government assistance programs. Some of them have proposed changing this law.

The New 2022 Public Charge Rule Proposal

The Biden administration reversed the public charge policy changes implemented by the previous administration. President Trump’s 2019 policy was challenged by the Biden administration, which filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the federal government’s appeal to uphold the rule and restore the use of the 1999 onsite guidance underlying the public charge determinations.

A new public charge rule was then proposed on February 24, 2022, which would largely codify the 1999 field guidance. The 60-day public comment period for the proposed rule ends on April 25, 2022, and the final rule is expected to be published after the government reviews public comments.

What are the main objectives of the new 2022 public charge rule?

The main objectives of the proposed rule are to:

  • Address the chilling effect of the 2019 rule on immigrant families’ participation in public programs, including Medicaid and CHIP,
  • Return to the 1999 definition of public charge for those who may rely primarily on the federal government, as evidenced by the use of cash assistance programs to maintain income or government-funded institutionalized long-term care (e.g., mental health), or nursing home care.
  • Apply prospective tests to public charge determinations, in which adjudicators predict whether a person is likely to become a public charge in the future based on current factors such as age, marital status, income and resources, education, and health.
  • Reduce fear of participating in projects, but this may require sustained efforts at the community level to rebuild trust and reduce fear among families.

What updates has USCIS made to its question and answer section regarding unacceptable public charge justification?

In order to better address current and general concerns regarding the unacceptable justification of public charges, USCIS has made a reform by updating some of the information in its Q&A section.

1.) The agency begins by providing an example that it “does not consider vaccines or public interests specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic when making public charge determinations.” USCIS wants to ensure that accurate and truthful information is available to all non-citizens and citizens.

2.) The agency also wishes to clarify that relatively few noncitizens in the United States are subject to both the public charge disqualification grounds and the public benefits contemplated in the 1999 Interim Guidelines.

These benefits include Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other programs that support noncitizens receiving long-term care in government agencies.

3.) Finally, USICS also announced that it would create a new final rule that would update and create new public charge disallowance provisions and replace the 1999 interim guidance. A new rule is needed, according to USCIS. The agency said the new rule will be published in July or August 2022.

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