By: Felipe Rivas
2 min read April 2020 — As the COVID-19 virus spreads from state to state, one demographic is experiencing a double layer of fear. Immigrants in the country not only worry about contracting the virus, they must also contend with the public charge rule. In February, as the coronavirus crept its way to North America, policy changes to the public charge rule made it easier for the U.S. government to deny Green Cards on a range of factors related to public benefits.
Public charge is a term used to describe an individual seeking legal immigrant status who cannot support himself or herself through employment, assets, or family members, and instead depends on government benefits and assistance programs. While the public charge rule has always been part of immigration mandates to obtain a Green Card, it used to be based on past receipt of benefits. However, this February, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Trump administration, the law will look at the future need of further benefits to determine the status of illegal immigrants in the country. The changes to public charge allow immigrant caseworkers to deem a person a public charge if they believe they are likely to need government assistance in the future.
“There are numerous immigration policy changes taking place across the nation. The most recent is in regard to public charge, in that anyone who applies for a residency or Green Card is going to have to prove that they are not likely to be a public charge to the United States,” Brown Immigrant Law Partner Erin Brown told Invest: Orlando.“That requires an in-depth inquiry into the person’s financial background and opportunity to earn.” Immigration caseworkers will look at factors such as age, income, and English proficiency, among others to determine if immigrants are likely to use public benefits.
The impact of the coronavirus has already laid off millions of U.S residents across sectors, many of whom will likely apply to different unemployment and government assistance programs. For immigrants without legal status, the changes to the public charge rule will breed further uncertainty. However, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services encourages all those, including aliens, with symptoms that resemble COVID-19 to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services. Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future public charge analysis, the agency wrote on its website.
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