Supreme court clears way for new public charge regulations

Supreme court clears way for new public charge regulations

The U.S. Supreme Court recently cleared the way for the Trump Administration to enforce new (and tougher) public charge regulations, which USCIS announce will become effective on February 24, 2020.  The new regulations expand the list of public benefits as well as the factors USCIS officers may consider to determine if it is “more likely than not” a person will ever become a public charge (or dependent on taxpayers for care and support).

The plan is to deny green cards unless the person proves they are self-sufficient or relies on family for support, and not on public assistance.  USCIS will be evaluating whether a person would be considered “inadmissible” to the U.S. “based on his or her likelihood of becoming a public charge at any time in the future…”

“Public charge” means a person had received certain public benefits for over 12 months in a three-year period.  These benefits include:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Cash benefits for income maintenance
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps)
  • Medicaid and certain housing benefits. (Medicaid for aliens under 21, pregnant women, and emergency medical services would not be considered against the person.)


As part of the public charge evaluation, USCIS will consider the alien’s age, health, private health insurance, assets, education, credit score, ability to speak English, employment history, etc., to determine the likelihood that the person will become a public charge at any time in the future.  Some of the “negative factors” include if a person is over 60 or under 18 years of age.  Aliens must also submit a Declaration of Self-sufficiency (Form I-944).

According to USCIS, “self-sufficiency has been a core tenant of the American dream.  Self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of hard-working immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States ever since.”   In other words, the Trump administration wants to stop situations where a person is petitioned for a green card, and as soon as they get that green card, they apply for as many public benefits as possible, considering those benefits to be “free,” but in reality, are being funded by taxpayers.  Trump doesn’t want new immigrants living off of taxpayers.  Instead, they either must support themselves or seek support from their family members, especially from the one who signed the affidavit of support.

But what will happen after February 24, 2020, when people petition their elderly parents as immediate relatives?  It’s likely the parents are retired or over 61, such that the USCIS (or the Embassy) could deny the visa, based on the “likelihood” of the beneficiary becoming a public charge at any time in the future.

If you’re considering petitioning family members, you should do so as soon as possible, because any application or petition already pending with USCIS as of the effective date will still be evaluated under the old, more lenient standards on public charge.

You should also seek the advice of an attorney in connection with petitioning family members and/or preparing affidavits of support, as the attorney could help evaluate and identify any potential public charge issues, which could result in a denial.


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