US rule will deny visas to immigrants who need public welfare

Immigration official Ken Cuccinelli says the rule change fits President Donald Trump's message.
Immigration official Ken Cuccinelli says the rule change fits President Donald Trump's message.

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump's administration unveiled a new rule yesterday that could deny permanent residency to hundreds of thousands of people for being too poor.

The long-anticipated rule, pushed by Mr Trump's leading anti-immigration aide Stephen Miller, takes effect in mid-October.

It will 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.

A notice published in the Federal Register said such a change will 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 organisations".

This could be the most drastic of the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies, experts say.

The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Mr Ken Cuccinelli, said the rule change fits the Republican President's message.

"We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient," Mr Cuccinelli said.

"That's a core principle of the American Dream. It's deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration."

Immigrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for public benefits because of their immigration status.

But advocates worry that the rules will scare immigrants into not asking for help. They are concerned that the rules give too broad an authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance at any time, giving immigration officials the ability to deny legal status to more people.

Advocates have criticised 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. Some 800,000 green cards were granted in 2016.

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.

Applicants will now need to show higher levels of income to secure a visa, and the rule greatly expands the list of government benefits that would disqualify them from obtaining US residency.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2019, with the headline 'US rule will deny visas to immigrants who need public welfare'. Subscribe