COVID-19 SUMMARY AND THE “PUBLIC CHARGE RULE”
The “Public Charge Rule” implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) on February 24, 2020 mandates that certain individuals applying for U.S. immigration status are generally inadmissible into the U.S. if they are found likely to become a public charge. Individuals inside or outside the U.S. who seek to either obtain Lawful Permanent Resident status (apply for immigrant visas and “green cards”) or to extend or change nonimmigrant status (temporary visas) must now demonstrate that they have not received public benefits, or have received limited public benefits, with some exceptions. Please note, the public charge rule DOES NOT apply to current green card holders, that are seeking U.S. citizenship.
The public charge rule now requires individuals to provide additional detailed information regarding finances (such as income, assets, credit scores, bank accounts, taxes, debts, etc.). Public benefits received prior to February 24, 2020 will not weigh heavily against these individuals.
The available USCIS guidance notes that public benefits considered for a public charge determination include, but are not limited to, the following: any federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance. In contrast, the following are not considered for a public charge determination: tax credits; unemployment benefits; disaster relief assistance; certain forms of nutritional support, including Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women Infants and Children (WIC) and school breakfast and lunch; and certain Medicaid benefits, including emergency medical care, school-based services and benefits, and Medicaid for individuals under 21 years of age.
In response to COVID-19, the federal government has enacted broad economic relief policies. These measures include direct financial aid to families through tax credit rebates, expanded unemployment benefits and new relief programs as well as indirect aid through increased federal funding for businesses and healthcare providers. Generally, the use of disaster relief assistance will not impact a public charge determination for individuals seeking immigration benefits. However, the use of public benefits during COVID-19 can still be considered in the public charge analysis.
As a reminder, many non-immigrants (temporary visa holders) are not eligible to receive public benefits. Eligibility for public benefits depends on immigration status, age, and other factors. Use of public benefits to which an individual is not entitled may have adverse immigration consequences beyond the public charge determination. All individuals should carefully review eligibility criteria prior to applying for and/or using public benefits. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our attorneys with any questions and concerns on how to maintain existing immigration compliance at this time.