On Monday, February 24, the United States began enforcing a regulation that could deny green cards or legal permanent residency to legal immigrants who seek public benefits like food stamps and Medicaid.
The “public charge” rule
Under the new rule, a family of two-member households with a minimum annual income of at least $41,000 will be able to avoid the act. If the annual income of any 2-member family is below $41,000, they will have to lose their immigration benefits.
The so-called “public charge” rule, published in August by the Department of Homeland Security, establishes a test to determine whether an immigrant applying to enter the US, extend their visa, or convert their temporary status into a green card is likely to end up relying on public benefits in the future, reported Vox. The new policy will also make it harder for immigrants sponsored by family members to get into the US, a phenomenon Trump has termed as “chain migration”. It will become harder for families to sponsor older parents or siblings under the new regulation. While there could be a merit-based immigration system, it would only allow people from certain fields and mostly the younger of the lot.
Vox however, reports that the current version of the regulation is much less stringent that the previous drafts which if implemented would have seen immigrants getting penalized for seeking benefits for their children instead of themselves.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “This final rule will protect hardworking American taxpayers, safeguard welfare programmes for truly needy Americans, reduce the Federal deficit and re-establish the fundamental legal principle that newcomers to our society should be financially self-reliant and not dependent on the largesse of taxpayers.”
Who is set to be affected?
Last year, the White House said that ‘aliens’ (immigrants) who enter or are in the US must support themselves and not rely on public benefits. Whoever is found to be a liability will be barred from entering the US and those migrants already in the US are found to become likely ‘public charges’ will be barred from adjusting their immigration status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute told the publication that at least 69 percent of the roughly 5.5 million people who were granted green cards over the past five years would have had at least one negative factor under the rule – which officials could have used as justification to reject their applications for immigration benefits.
The move is set to affect a large number of Indians who are on H-1B visas and in queue to get permanent residency. Denials for H-1B petitions have increased steadily from 4.3 percent in 2015 to 7.4 percent in 2017 and 15.2 percent in 2019, The Week reported. According to a 2018 Migration Policy Institute report, 11 percent of non-citizen Indian families that receive public benefits would be scrutinized under the new regulation.
With the “public charge” regulation, it has been portrayed by Trump that immigrants are abusing public benefits. In 2016, the average per capita value of public benefits used by immigrants was $3,718 while native-born Americans used $6,081 of public benefits.
The element of fear
“The rhetoric around the use of public benefits programs is largely smoke and mirrors,” Erin Quinn, a senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Vox. “It’s feeding a rhetoric that immigrants are draining our public services when in fact these immigrants don’t even have access to those services and also galvanizing fear in immigrant communities.”
The new rule will have a chilling effect on immigrant families, creating anxiety among people who are already in the US about whether their status would get extended. Immigrants too, fuel the American economy as they are consumers and pay taxes. With the fear spread among the immigrants, experts have reported that people are even dropping benefits for which they qualify for.
Doug Rand, a former White House official who worked on the immigration policy during the Obama administration explained that many immigrants were anyway not eligible for public benefits unless they had certain cards or humanitarian protections. He said that not all public benefits were available to non-citizens and immigrants who are entitled to using some public benefits must continue to do so because they won’t be penalized for it.
“The rule has falsely created an impression that undocumented immigrants and temporary residents are gobbling up public benefits, which they’re not because they’re generally not eligible,” Rand said. “And it has scared those who are eligible, who are primarily permanent residents with green cards, legal immigrants, into un-enrolling from programs they are perfectly eligible to take advantage of under the law,” he added.
Given the announcement of millions of Indians in the US or aspiring to be there being affected, we can’t help but wonder what PM Modi thinks of President Trump’s new gift for India.