The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently enacted a new rule requiring the consideration of certain cash and non-cash public benefits when adjudicating certain immigration petitions. The rule, known as the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds (Public Charge Rule), allows USCIS to deny an immigrant or nonimmigrant application if the foreign national has received cash assistance, food stamps, certain types of Medicaid or public housing assistance. USCIS asserts that, reliance on one or more of these benefits is not determinative of a denial; rather, the totality of the immigrant’s circumstances will be considered when adjudicating public charge grounds.
USCIS announced Friday, March 13, 2020, that the Public Charge Rule does not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19. In addition, the rule does not restrict access to vaccines for children or adults to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases.
USCIS stated, that their reasoning was “To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).”
The Public Charge Rule is still subject to litigation challenging its validity and necessity. USCIS currently requires a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support which serves as a contract between the federal government and a US citizen sponsor to provide financial reimbursement to the federal government shouldthe intending immigrant rely on public benefits. The Public Charge Rule as written simply allows USCIS to deny applications, even when an immigrant has a sponsor to support them,if they believe the immigrant is likely to become a public charge.
Despite these concerns regarding the necessity of the Public Charge Rule, the statement from USCIS that COVID-19 related testing and treatment is a positive step in supporting immigrants’ access to health care and achieving nation-wide cooperation in mitigating the spread of the disease.
Should you have any questions about the Inadmissibility on Public Charge rule, please contact Stephen Antwine, Esq. at Green & Spiegel, LLC at (215) 395-8959.