On October 4, 2019, the White House issued a Presidential Proclamation requiring intending immigrants from abroad to prove that they either have the resources to pay for their own medical care, or that they will have unsubsidized health insurance within 30 days of entry into the U.S. If they can prove neither, they will be unable to immigrate. The new policy is supposed to take effect on November 3, 2019.
This Proclamation could result in a 65% drop in the issuance of immigrant visas, resulting in 375,000 fewer legal immigrants arriving in the U.S. annually. Even though permanent residents are eligible to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act, including with subsidies if earning less than 400% of the annual poverty guidelines (an income of up to $103,000 for a family of four), access to subsidized insurance would not meet the health insurance requirement under the Proclamation.
While this policy in theory applies to all immigrants applying for immigrant visas while abroad, the impact will fall primarily on immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and on Diversity Lottery immigrants. The vast majority of employment-based immigrants are already in the U.S. when they apply for permanent residency, and additionally, are typically in professional positions that include health insurance as a benefit. As a result, the new policy is unlikely to affect them.
Perversely, the Proclamation would exclude children under 18, unless they are immigrating together with their parent. So, for example, the child of a permanent resident could immigrate, but that child’s parent, the spouse of the permanent resident, would be barred from immigrating if their petitioning spouse works in a job that does not provide health insurance, and cannot afford to purchase health insurance for the immigrating spouse except through the ACA subsidized insurance through the ACA.
This new policy will result in separated families, along with the related emotional and economic costs that prolonged separations entail. The new policy will also result in dramatically fewer working age immigrants joining the U.S. workforce and economy, at a time of record low unemployment nationwide and in Maine, and when our labor supply is shrinking as our population ages.
The administration repeatedly states that it supports “legal immigration”, yet its actions indicate otherwise. In the span of a week, the administration’s announcement of drastic cuts in refugee admissions together with this new Proclamation will result in at least a third fewer new immigrants coming to the U.S. in FY 2020, compared to typical annual numbers over the past two decades. This flies in the face of centuries of immigration tradition, and ignores the economy’s need for new workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs.
It’s likely that this Proclamation will be the subject of federal lawsuits challenging its legality.