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USCIS New Public Charge Rule (including Covid-19 updates)

If you are applying for a visa, visa extension, or green card, you will need to be aware of an update to the public charge ground of inadmissibility.

Since the 1800s, the U.S. has denied immigration applications based on this ground of inadmissibility. A “public charge” was historically defined as a person who relies (or appears to rely) on government benefits to make ends meet. On February 24, 2020, however, USCIS officially implemented the new public charge rule, which changes the definition of a public charge and modifies how officers can evaluate applicants against this ground of inadmissibility.

Essentially, the rule allows officers to subjectively decide on a “totality of circumstances” whether an applicant is or is likely at any point to become a public charge, based on a combination of the following factors:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Income
  • Assets
  • Dependents
  • Background
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Skills
  • Intended length of stay in the U.S.
  • Prospective status

Most pivotally, USCIS will evaluate the person’s receipt of (or application for) public benefits as a “heavily weighted negative factor”. If the applicant uses qualifying public benefits for more than a total of 12 months in a 36-month period, they could become ineligible based on the public charge rule.

To calculate the total number of months, USCIS adds each benefit separately. For example, 8 months of receiving 3 different types of benefits would equal 24 months total. USCIS will only consider benefits applied for or received on or after February 24, 2020.

Fortunately, not all benefits render an applicant ineligible, and not all applicants will be evaluated against this ground of inadmissibility.

Here are a few benefits anyone can use without fear of being considered a public charge:

  • Emergency medical assistance
  • Disaster relief
  • School-based services for people at or below the oldest eligible age for secondary education
  • Medicaid for emergency medical treatment
  • Medicaid received by a pregnant person or during the 60-day period after pregnancy
  • Medicaid for someone under 21
  • Medicaid for services/benefits under the Individuals with Disabilities Act

Furthermore, certain groups of people can use any type of benefit without USCIS rendering them ineligible. These groups include U.S. citizen dependents, U.S. servicemembers, asylees, petitioners under the VAWA, T or U visa applicants/holders, Afghans or Iraqis with special immigrant visas, and Special Immigrant Juveniles.

A Note About COVID-19

Due to fear of becoming ineligible based on the public charge rule, many prospective visa and green card applicants have decided to forego important benefits and medical care. USCIS has urged all people in the United States, regardless of status, to seek medical treatment if they show symptoms of the coronavirus. Testing, treatment, and preventative care for this pandemic will not affect a person’s eligibility for a visa or green card, even if paid for by a public benefit.

However, while USCIS acknowledges the potential financial effects of COVID-19, USCIS has not yet created any exemption for financial loss due to the outbreak. If a person applies for public benefits or loses income or financial resources because the pandemic has prevented them from being able to go to work or school, USCIS advises applicants to explain this situation in their application.

Are You Concerned About the Public Charge Rule?

At David F. Vedder, P.A., we are Board-Certified in Immigration & Nationality Law, and we have handled more than 11,000 cases in our 40+ years of practice. We are adept at navigating new policies and regulations, and we can help you understand the implications the public charge rule may have on your case.

Due to COVID-19, we are no longer scheduling in-person meetings. Please call (386) 968-8880 or contact us online to schedule your phone or Skype consultation today.

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