Proposed Public Charge Rule: Few Will Be Barred, Billions Will Be Saved

By Jessica M. Vaughan on September 27, 2018

The Trump administration has released a draft of new regulations it is proposing in order to ensure that those admitted as immigrants and temporary visitors are more likely to be self-sufficient, and not a "public charge", in accordance with a longstanding provision in immigration law. CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian explained the need and likely impact of the rule here. To review, the proposed rule will expand the types of public assistance that will be considered by immigration officials in making a public charge determination for new applicants, and will be stricter about how much past or potential future dependence on public assistance will disqualify an applicant. Here I'd like to add a few additional details and observations on the proposal to keep in mind as the process moves forward.

  • Applicants, Not Immigrants. It is worth mentioning repeatedly that this rule has no appreciable impact on people who already have green cards or who have become naturalized. Nearly every media description of the rule erroneously says that the rule will penalize or block "immigrants" from accessing welfare benefits. That is false; it could potentially penalize or block applicants.
  • Little Effect on Total Immigration Numbers. It is highly unlikely that the rule will have a significant or noticeable effect on the total number of immigrants admitted, which is about one million per year. Nearly half of immigrants are admitted in categories with pre-set quotas that have long waiting lists of applicants. If an applicant in one of those categories is denied on public charge grounds, then the next person in line who is qualified will take their place.
  • DACA and Humanitarian Categories Are Exempt. Many categories are exempt from the rules, including refugees and asylees. In addition, those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are exempt when applying for renewal. However, DACA recipients applying for a green card or other types of legal status will be subject to the rules when they become final.
  • Not Retroactive. Applicants who have used types of public assistance that were never counted for public charge determinations in the past, such as food stamps or public housing, will not be penalized for it. Only use of these programs that occurs after the new rules go into effect will be considered.
  • Few Ever Denied Admission on Public Charge Grounds. According to USCIS statistics, only a few hundred people a year at most are ever denied admission based on failure to show self-sufficiency.
  • Many Immigrants Using Welfare. The proposed rule presents data showing high rates of public assistance use by non-citizens, which CIS research has shown in great detail for many years. According to the rule (p. 103), more than one-fifth of all immigrants are using public assistance programs. There are five times more immigrants using the non-cash benefits that now will be counted under the new rule (especially Medicaid and food stamps) than are using cash benefits programs that were counted under the current rules (mainly SSI). The vast majority (85 percent) of those immigrants receiving public assistance are of working age (age 18-61).
  • DHS Predicts a Tiny Rate of Dis-enrollment from Welfare Programs. DHS is predicting that about 320,000 people are members of households where someone in the household is a non-citizen receiving public assistance who will dis-enroll from the public assistance to avoid being disqualified for permanent residency (p. 363). DHS estimates a dis-enrollment rate of 2.5 percent.
  • Rule Could Save Taxpayers $1.5 Billion Annually. DHS predicts that the hundreds of thousands of people who cease using public assistance due to the rule will save approximately $1.5 billion a year (p. 364).
  • Public Charge Determination Based on Self-Reporting of Finances, Welfare Use. One limitation of this proposed rule is that the adjudicating officer's determination of self-sufficiency will be based on what the applicant reports on the forms. Currently, officers will have no easy way of verifying what the applicant claims, or how much assistance was received. USCIS should work with other federal and state agencies to devise a system for information-sharing so that adjudications can be based on accurate information about applicants' welfare use.