Immigration Status & Public Charge

Headline:

With a new final public charge rule expected this summer, USCIS has updated its public charge resources webpage to clarify current policy and reduce the rule’s chilling effect on benefits access in immigrant communities.

Last-reviewed: 9am, June 23, 2022

Key Resources:

The Basics

  • The RIAN Center continues to work remotely. Apply for a free legal consultation by calling 617-542-7654.
  • As of November 8, 2021, foreign nationals entering the United States will need to provide proof of full vaccination but no longer need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before inbound air travel.
  • On April 3, 2022, ICE released guidance regarding enforcement of immigration laws and prosecutorial discretion.
  • All MA residents over age 5 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster, regardless of immigration status.

The Breakdown

  • USCIS field offices and asylum offices have reopened. Visitors must follow this policy. Naturalization ceremonies as well as in-person interviews and appointments have also resumed.
  • Boston Immigration Court reopened for all matters. 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.
  • On November 16, 2021, USCIS published an interagency letter restating the end of the 2019 public charge rule. As a result, the benefits on this non-exhaustive list are no longer considered for public charge:
    • SNAP (food stamps)
    • MassHealth/Medicaid (except for long-term institutionalization)
    • Public housing
    • Section 8
    • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Similarly, USCIS does not consider COVID-19 vaccines and boosters when making public charge determinations.

More information on public charge can be found on the newly updated Public Charge Resources page at USCIS and a new Q&A section.

  • On April 3, 2022, ICE released guidance regarding enforcement priorities of immigration laws and prosecutorial discretion. Enforcement priorities include those who pose a threat to:
    • National Security
    • Public Safety
    • Border Security

Enforcement priorities do not prohibit immigration officials from enforcing other immigration laws. However, ICE will focus enforcement on safety and security.

  • USCIS announced that the agency will increase the automatic extension period of work permits for certain applicants to avoid gaps in employment for certain noncitizens.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Under the United for Ukraine emergency package signed by President Biden on May 21, 2022, Ukrainians granted humanitarian parole can now qualify for federal needs-based benefits on the same basis as immigrants granted refugee or asylum.
  • DHS announced that they are extending the validity of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)-related documentation – including employment-related documentation – for beneficiaries of six countries 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.
  • On February 1, 2021, DHS put out a statement assuring the public that all individuals living in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, should have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. DHS stated that it will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.
  • On July 16, 2021, a federal judge held that DACA is illegal. DHS will continue to accept the filing of both initial and renewal DACA requests with accompanying requests for employment authorization, but DHS is prohibited from granting initial DACA requests and accompanying requests for employment authorization. More information and application forms can be found on the USCIS website.
  • 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.

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.