US President Donald Trump's administration has unveiled a new rule that could deny visas and permanent residency to hundreds of thousands of people who use or could possibly utilize public benefits. The rule is likely to adversely impact Indian immigrants, a majority of whom use the family-based green card route to move to the US.
Under the new rules, more than half of all family-based green card applicants would be denied, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization. Some 800,000 green cards were granted in 2016.
As of April 2018, there were 632,219 Indian immigrants and their spouses and minor children waiting for Green Cards. Of the 60,394 Indians who received Green Cards in 2017, the maximum 23,569 were issued to the employment-based preferences like those on the H-1B visas. The remaining applicants were either spouses of US citizens or immediate relatives who used the family-based green card preferences.
The long-anticipated rule, pushed by Trump's leading aide on immigration, Stephen Miller, takes effect October 15, 2019 and would reject applicants for temporary or permanent visas for failing to meet income standards or for receiving public assistance such as welfare, food stamps, public housing or Medicaid.
Such a change would ensure that immigrants "are self-sufficient," in that they "do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities, as well as the resources of family members, sponsors, and private organizations," a notice published in the Federal Register said.
"The principle driving it is an old American value and that's self-sufficiency," Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a Fox News interview.
"It will also have the long-term benefit of protecting taxpayers by ensuring people who are immigrating to this country don't become public burdens, that they can stand on their own two feet, as immigrants in years past have done," he said.
The overhaul is part of President Donald Trump's efforts to curb both legal and illegal immigration, an issue he has made a cornerstone of his presidency.
This rule change on benefits could be the most drastic of all the Trump administration's immigration policies, experts have said. Advocates for immigrants have criticized the plan as an effort to cut legal immigration without going through Congress to change US law.
Under the new rules, more than half of all family-based green card applicants would be denied, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization. Some 800,000 green cards were granted in 2016. A majority of Indians moving to the US use the family-based green card route.
The new rule is derived from the Immigration Act of 1882, which allows the US government to deny a visa to anyone likely to become a "public charge." Immigration officers in recent years have defined visa applicants as a public charge if they are likely to become primarily dependent on government assistance.
Most immigrants are ineligible for the major aid programs until they get green cards but the new rule published by the Department of Homeland Security expands the definition of a public charge that stands to disqualify more people.
Applicants will now need to show higher levels of income to get a visa and the rule greatly expands the list of government benefits that would disqualify them from obtaining US residency.
The State Department changed its foreign affairs manual in January 2018 to give diplomats wider discretion in deciding visa denials on public-charge grounds. In the 2018 fiscal year, which ended last September, the number of visas denied on those grounds quadrupled compared to the previous year.
The Justice Department also is considering a regulation that would dramatically expand the category of people who could be subject to deportation on the grounds that they use public benefits.