DHS Proposes Vast Changes to Public Charge Definition

Publication date: 
September 2018

On Saturday, DHS posted on its website the text of its much-anticipated proposed rule re-defining public charge.

Stemming from a 2017 Trump Administration executive order encouraging “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugee applicants, the agency’s proposed rule would significantly alter the way USCIS officers screen for potential public charge of adjustment of status applicants or of nonimmigrants applying for an extension or change of status. Once finalized, the rule would also affect how consular officers screen for public charge for both immigrant and nonimmigrant applicants, since the Department of State traditionally joins in USCIS interpretations of grounds of inadmissibility.

In determining whether an applicant is “likely to become a public charge,” the proposed test would shift attention away from the petitioning sponsor’s income as reported on the affidavit of support and re-direct it to the adjustment applicant’s earning potential and use of certain public benefits. USCIS officers would scrutinize the intending immigrant’s current and estimated income, job history, job skills, health status, assets, and their current or past history of public benefits receipt. The proposed rule creates a complicated metric system that calculates the monetary value of the specific public benefit to determine its negative effect, and distinguishes between those benefit programs that can and cannot be assigned such a value.

But in keeping with tradition, the new public charge test would not assign negative weight to U.S. citizen children or other family members’ receipt of benefits, which had been feared. It remains to be seen, however, whether families currently receiving health care and supplemental nutritional programs will disenroll or forego future participation due to misinformation or undue caution.

The following is a summary of some of the more important changes in the proposed rule and how CLINIC plans to respond.