Biden Is Expanding Public Charge to Include More Immigrants

On March 8, 2021, the Biden Administration said it would no longer limit admission to immigrants who may depend on government benefits. This announcement is a part of a series of Trump-era policy reversals from the Biden Administration. President Biden continues to make moves to reform the immigration system, and many are hopeful that these reforms will allow them to reconnect with loved ones and find opportunities within the United States.

What Is Public Charge?

To understand the significance of President Biden’s order, it’s important to look at the history of public charge and how it’s evolved. The first thing you should understand is that “public charge” is one of the grounds for inadmissibility. It has also been a part of America’s immigration policy for over 100 years.

Public charge refers to an immigrant who depends on financial support from government programs and public benefits. An immigrant may not need help from these programs initially, but if it becomes clear that they will need to depend on government assistance, they fall into the public charge category.

Public Charge and Inadmissibility

If an immigrant is inadmissible, they cannot pursue immigration benefits, citizenship, or other opportunities within the United States. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services evaluates prospective immigrants on set grounds, but the immigrant cannot be inadmissible on any single factor. There must be several contributing factors that would cause them to be inadmissible due to public charge.

USCIS adjudicating officers evaluate the following:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Family status
  • Assets, resources, property, financial status
  • Education and skills
  • Prospective immigration status
  • The expected period of admission

Again, no single factor will make an immigrant inadmissible, but if a combination of the above factors leads the USCIS officer to believe that the individual may become a public charge, that immigrant will likely be inadmissible to the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security also provides guidelines for public charge inadmissibility and defines government benefits as including the following programs:

  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Any federal, state, local, or tribal cash benefit programs for income maintenance

Additionally, the Trump Administration expanded the grounds for public charge inadmissibility to include those who may depend on Medicaid, supplemental nutrition, and federal housing. The former administration also established a qualifier stating that anyone who needs assistance for more than 12 months during a three-year period would be included in the expanded public charge program.

The Future of Public Charge Inadmissibility

Now that the Justice Department has taken action to put the highly restrictive Trump-era policies under review, many immigrants may be able to pursue opportunities in the United States.

While many Americans are fortunate enough to live without government assistance, it is crucial to understand that many immigrants come from complex social, environmental, and government crises to a country with a high cost of living and a highly competitive job market. While this isn’t true of all immigrants, it’s still a fact of life for many individuals and families seeking a new life in the United States.

Immigrants and advocacy groups alike are hopeful that the future of immigration will include those who need extra financial assistance. The Biden Administration has made their intentions clear – the immigration system must change now. While the President isn’t removing the public charge inadmissibility policy altogether, the recent efforts to remove discriminatory restrictions are the beginning of changes that many immigrants are hoping for.

Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A. cares about our clients, and we strive to keep up with any updates to immigration policy in the United States to provide the most up-to-date legal counsel.