Easing ‘public charge’ concerns in Calif.

The chancellor of the California community college system is trying to ease concerns among immigrant students who are worried that receiving or applying for any student aid might affect their legal status in light of a new federal immigration rule that takes effect in October.

In simple terms, the answer is no, said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. For immigrant students receiving or applying for educational benefits — including tuition assistance — those benefits will not be factored into so-called “public charge” rule changes.

“We encourage students and prospective students to continue to apply for the financial aid that they may be eligible to receive and to pursue their educational goals at community college,” Oakley said in a press release.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this month published a final rule that expands the circumstances under which a non-citizen applying for permanent legal status and others may be deemed a “public charge,” and therefore possibly ineligible for permanent residency and citizenship.

The state chancellor’s office said it has received inquiries regarding the changes, which kick in October 15. An office advisory to the system’s colleges noted that the department’s final rule includes definitions of “public charge” and “public benefit” that significantly expand the impact of the public charge test but do not reach educational benefits.

“Pell grants and student aid programs will not be considered in the public charge inadmissibility determination,” it said.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) earlier this month said that receiving educational and job training benefits would not put someone at risk of being deemed a public charge, but that “many community college students and their family members are likely to be ensnared by the rule nonetheless.” There is also concern that the rule could deter eligible students from seeking educational benefits because they fear it could hurt their chances or a family member’s chances for naturalization, AACC said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.