You’ve likely seen in the news this week that the Department of Homeland Security has announced official guidelines for how they will determine whether or not an intending immigrant is, or is likely to become, a “public charge.” The Trump administration has been hinting towards plans to make the public charge policy more restrictive and more enforceable over the last several months, and their announcement on Friday does just that.

The new guidelines for determining whether or not an intending immigrant is inadmissible based on financial reasons are set to take effect on October 15, 2019. Applicants who file their Adjustment of Status or Immigrant Visa petitions before this date will not be subject to the new policy.

Until now, the definition and criteria of a “public charge” immigrant has been largely undefined and left to the discretion of interviewing officers. Beginning October 15th, an intending immigrant will be deemed likely to become a “public charge” if they have received one or more designated public benefit for more than 12 months within any 36-month period

A “designated public benefit” in this case includes any cash benefits for income maintenance, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), most forms of Medicaid, Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and public housing. 

The new law would not include the following as disqualifying pubic benefits: Emergency medical assistance, disaster relief, national school lunch programs, WIC or CHIP, foster care and adoption, student and mortgage loans, energy assistance, food pantries and homeless shelters, and Head Start. 

This new policy is dangerous for families who may avoid accepting public benefits that they qualify for out of fear that it will affect their current or future immigration case. It also places unfair restrictions on what kind of immigrant is allowed to become and remain a resident or citizen of the US. The bias toward financial self-sufficiency is a major development in the shift toward the “merit based” immigration system that the Trump administration proposed earlier this year. 

Applicants worried about this development are encouraged to file immigration petitions before the change takes effect.