Immigration Status & Public Charge

Headline:

DHS has issued a new public charge rule that allows eligible immigrants and their families to safely access health, nutrition, and housing benefits without jeopardizing their future immigration applications.

Last-reviewed: 9am, Sept. 22, 2022

Key Resources:

The Basics

  • DHS has published a final public charge rule that will be effective on December 23, 2022. In the meantime, the Trump Administration’s 2019 Public Charge Rule is no longer in effect. Immigrant families can use most public health, nutrition, and housing programs with no adverse impact on their future Green Card applications.
  • DHS has issued a new regulation to preserve and strengthen DACA for eligible noncitizens who arrived in the US as children, often called “Dreamers.”
  • All non-US citizen, foreign nationals must provide proof of full vaccination (but no negative COVID-19 test result) before inbound air travel to the US. More information can be found here.
  • All visitors, regardless of vaccination status or level of COVID-19 transmission in their area, are required to wear a mask inside DHS and USCIS locations and buildings.
  • USCIS has extended some COVID-19-related flexibilities through October 23, 2022 to help applicants, petitioners, and requestors respond to requests for information.
  • The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will end the “Remain in Mexico” policy and will allow asylum seekers to enter the US.
  • DHS has updated the COVID-19 vaccination requirements for Uniting for Ukraine parolees.
  • HealthCare.gov provides information on health insurance coverage for immigrant families.
  • As of August 23, 2022, USCIS has reached the congressionally mandated 65,000 H-1B visa cap and the 20,000 H-1B visa advanced degree exemption for FY 2023.
  • USCIS has taken several actions in early September affecting some Cubans, Liberians, and Venezuelans.

The Breakdown

  • USCIS field offices and asylum offices have reopened. Visitors must follow this COVID-19 policy. Naturalization ceremonies have also resumed.
  • Immigration Courts have different operational statuses. Case information is available online with a 9-digit alien registration number (A-#########) or by calling the Executive Office of Administration Review at 1-800-898-7180.
  • Processing times for immigration applications are taking several months to over a year. People can check how long it is taking USCIS to process applications here.
  • USCIS has extended some COVID-19-related flexibilities, including making permanent the policy permitting applicants to submit benefit forms and other documents with scanned, faxed, or photocopied (rather than original) signatures. Read more here.
  • On September 9, 2022, DHS published a final public charge rule that allows eligible immigrants and their families to safely access health, nutrition, and housing benefits without jeopardizing their future immigration applications. Read DHS’s press release here. The final rule is effective December 23, 2022, meaning that it will apply to immigration applications postmarked on or after that date. (Until then, the 1999 Field Guidance will continue to apply.)
  • Under the new public charge rule, DHS will not consider in public charge determinations benefits received by family members other than the applicant. In addition, the benefits on this non-exhaustive list are not considered for public charge:
    • SNAP (food stamps) and WIC
    • Medicaid (except for long-term institutionalization)
    • Public housing
    • Section 8
    • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Affordable Connectivity Program

Protecting Immigrant Families has updated public charge guidance for advocates here.

USCIS still does not consider COVID-19 vaccines and boosters when making public charge determinations. Protecting Immigrant Families has developed a COVID-19 vaccination video for immigrant families to assure them that getting the vaccine will have no immigration status consequences. The video is available in 9 languages here.

  • USCIS has taken several actions in early September, including: resumed operations under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program; extending and expanding employment authorization for Liberians covered by Deferred Enforced Departure; and announcing a re-registration process for current Venezuelan temporary protected status beneficiaries.
  • After a federal appeals court rejected the Biden administration’s policy regarding enforcement priorities, the administration appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. SCOTUS then denied the administration’s request to reinstate its immigration enforcement priorities but agreed to hear the case later this year. The Homeland Security policy had instructed immigration agencies to prioritize three categories of noncitizens for arrest and detention: recent border crossers, those who pose a threat to national security or a threat to public safety.
  • On June 30, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that the Biden administration could end the “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy that originated under the Trump administration. The program, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, forced thousands of asylum seekers to return to Mexico while waiting for their immigration cases to be heard in the US. On August 8, 2022, Homeland Security announced that it will end the MPP and permit asylum seekers to enter the US while they await immigration court action on their asylum applications.
  • On May 3, 2022, USCIS announced that the agency will increase the automatic extension period of work permits for certain applicants to avoid gaps in employment.
  • On May 20, 2022, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from ending Title 42 expulsions of people seeking asylum. While the Biden administration announced that it plans to appeal the decision, the White House press secretary stated that “migrants who attempt to enter the US unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42.” Read the White House statement here and an August 8, 2022 DHS statement here.
  • On March 7, 2022, USCIS announced that the agency will consider granting deferred action on a case-by-case basis to noncitizens classified as Special Immigrant Juveniles who are ineligible to apply for adjustment of status solely due to unavailable immigrant visa numbers.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is available for certain nationals from Cameroon, Haiti, Ukraine, and many other countries. For a list of countries designated for TPS, and the eligibility requirements for certain nationals, visit the USCIS TPS webpage here.
  • DHS recently extended the designation of Venezuela for TPS through March 10, 2024 for existing Venezuelan TPS beneficiaries.
  • Some Cuban and Haitian Entrants may be eligible for benefits such as cash assistance, medical assistance, job placement, and other services through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. A fact sheet for eligibility and benefits can be found here.
  • Afghans who enter the US on a humanitarian parole between July 31, 2021, and September 30, 2022, and certain Afghans paroled into the US after September 30, 2021, will now be eligible for resettlement benefits, including food benefits. More information can be found here.
  • DHS announced that they are extending the validity of TPS-related documentation – including employment-related documentation – for beneficiaries of six countries countries (El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan) through December 31, 2022.
  • USCIS announced a new policy that will allow persons with pending U visa applications to obtain employment authorization. USCIS has called this process the Bona Fide Determination process – where the application is completed without intention of deceit or fraud – to allow applicants to support themselves while they pursue justice.
  • Air passengers – regardless of immigration status or citizenship – are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board flights to the US. More information can be found here.
  • All individuals living in the United States, regardless of immigration status, can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. DHS has stated that it will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.
  • On August 24, 2022, DHS issued a final rule that will preserve and fortify DACA for those young people who came to the US as children, have no current lawful immigration status, and are already low enforcement priorities for removal. The final rule, effective October 31, 2022, keeps the current threshold criteria for DACA applicants, maintains the current process for work authorization for DACA applicants, and affirms the DHS policy that DACA does not provide recipients with lawful status but allows them to be considered “lawfully present” for certain purposes. Due to a July 16, 2021 federal court decision, DHS cannot apply the final rule to new initial DACA requests but can continue to grant renewal requests under the final rule. More information and application forms can be found on the DHS press release and the USCIS website.
  • On August 23, 2022, USCIS announced that they had received enough petitions to reach the congressionally mandated 65,000 H-1B visa cap and the 20,000 H-1B visa advanced degree exemption for FY 2023. Find more information here.
  • Penn State Law has put together a resource list for Afghan Nationals seeking legal help or support services. More information can be found here.
  • The Higher Ed Immigration Portal is a new website aimed at providing resources to immigrant students. The website provides information related to financial assistance for undocumented students. It also provides other information that may be helpful while navigating the education system as an immigrant.
  • DHS has updated the COVID-19 vaccination requirements for Uniting for Ukraine parolees to include all beneficiaries ages 6 months and older. For more information on the Uniting for Ukraine program, visit this DHS page.

The Bottom Line

  • Constant changes to immigration law and policies make an uncertain time even more uncertain for immigrant populations. Families with questions about public charge should connect with immigration experts to have their specific questions and needs evaluated.