Washington Watch: New proposed regs could affect certain immigrants

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently issued proposed regulations that could significantly impact low-income immigrants who want to become legal permanent U.S. residents.

The regulations also would affect those who want to extend or change their visa status (i.e, from student visa to employment visa).

While the reach of these proposed regulations is not as broad as originally anticipated, it is still a considerable departure from current policy and may impact community college students and/or their families.

Under current law, immigration officials must determine whether a person seeking to become a legal permanent resident is likely to become a “public charge.” If the answer is yes, the individual seeking to emigrate or change their immigration status will be denied.

One of the many factors that go into this determination is whether the individual has received or likely would receive certain forms of government assistance. Right now, only two forms of government assistance are considered: cash assistance, such as the through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and long-term government-provided institutional care.

The proposed regulation would significantly broaden the programs that immigration officials may consider when making a public charge determination. The newly considered programs would include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), non-emergency Medicaid, housing assistance (Section 8 vouchers) and Medicare Part D low-income subsidies. Participation in any of these programs would greatly increase the odds that an immigrant would be deemed a public charge.

Pell grants excluded

Importantly, educational assistance (such as Pell grants) and job training are not included on this list. As under current law, receipt of assistance from these types of programs would not be considered when making a public charge determination. Earlier drafts of the regulation that leaked to the press were less clear in this regard.

It is true that eligibility for many of these programs, including Pell grants, is limited to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, so many immigrants seeking to become legal permanent residents or extend or change their visa status would not be directly affected. But certain immigrant groups are eligible for several of these new programs. Notably, family members who receive these benefits, including children that are U.S. citizens, do not count against the applicant.

The regulations also add more detail to the other factors that are considered in making a public charge determination, including age, household size, English proficiency and more. They also impose a new income test for applicants that penalizes households making under 125 percent of the poverty line and weigh strongly in favor of households that make more than 250 percent of the poverty line.

Forgoing benefits

Immigration advocates are concerned that many non-citizens will refrain from using benefits that are available to them, even if the new regulations do not apply to them. For instance, legal permanent residents seeking to become citizens are not subject to a public charge determination. The same is true for certain classes of immigrants such as refugees and survivors of domestic violence. There are reports, however, that eligible immigrants have pulled away from these programs.

For more information, see the regulation summary and other resources provided by the National Immigration Law Center and Center for Law and Social Policy. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.