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Biden administration redefines public charge condition

In an effort to help more low-income individuals apply for green cards, the Biden administration has changed the definition of who is considered to be a ‘public charge’ from immigration applications.

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    What is the new rule regarding public charges?

    The Biden administration has recently finalized a rule redefining the rule of who might be considered a public charge. As of December 23rd, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will no longer label non-U.S. citizens who have received certain non-cash benefits such as Medicaid (not used for the purposes of long-term institutional care), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), housing benefits, public health services like immunizations or testing, and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or other nutrition programs as being a ‘public charge’ for their participation in these programs.

    As of December 23rd, 2022, the DHS will now revert back to the historical definition of ‘public charge’ that was used for decades previous before it was changed under President Trump.

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    Who is considered to be a public charge?

    In the late 19th century, the U.S. government instituted the public charge test as a way to weed what they considered to be less-desirable immigrants from non-European countries who did not have the same wealth and resources as other immigrants.

    Under the Trump administration in 2020, the rules regarding who is considered to be a public charge became more stringent. Non-U.S. citizens who received public health benefits such as housing vouchers, food stamps, and Medicaid for more than 12 months in a 36-month period were considered to be an economic burden on the U.S. government and therefore labeled as a ‘public charge’. As a result, their use of these government benefits was taken into account when applying for permanent residency and often used as a reason to deny a visa or green card application.

    Critics argued that adding these new rules to immigration applications was the Trump administration’s way of discriminating against low-income immigrants. Upon taking office in 2021, the Biden administration stopped enforcing these ‘wealth-test’ guidelines in order to allow more green cards to be issued to qualified applicants.

    As of December 23rd, 2022, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will only consider applicants to be a public charge if “they are likely at any time to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence”.

    What happens now?

    Now that the Trump administration’s rules for who is classified as a public charge are in the process of being rescinded, the U.S. government expects more non-U.S. citizens to apply for visas and green cards.

    In addition, the Biden administration hopes that by rolling back these rules, many more foreign nationals who are living in the United States will not fear receiving much-needed benefits for themselves and their families without it compromising their current or future immigration applications.

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