Months after a draft was released, on October 10, 2018 the administration published proposed revisions to immigration regulations interpreting the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility. The proposed rule, if it takes effect in its current form, would result in a sharp decrease in immediate family immigration.
As explained in this prior post, in 1996 Congress required immigrating immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to file an “affidavit of support” proving their petitioning relative’s ability to support them with an income higher than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines before they could be approved for permanent residency. Under the proposed new rule, that affidavit of support would just be the threshold requirement. The intending immigrant would also be judged on a variety of other factors that are designed to deny residency to those who are not extremely advantaged.
Factors that the government would view as “negative” or “heavily weighted negative” when evaluating whether an immigrant is “likely to become a public charge” would include:
- If the intending immigrant is younger than 18 (despite the fact that immigrant youth quickly learn English and acclimate, and go on to work and pay taxes for decades);
- If an immigrating parent of a U.S. citizen is older than 61 (despite the fact that s/he may be fully capable of working, or will provide childcare to grandchildren, enabling both parents in the household to work);
- If the intending immigrant lacks proficient English, or higher education, or private health insurance; or
- If the intending immigrant has children, among several other factors.
The intending immigrant could counter any negative factors with positive ones, such has already having a job that provides health insurance (an unlikely scenario), but the only proposed “heavily weighted” positive factor would be a household income that exceeds 250% of the federal poverty guidelines. In 2018, for example, that is nearly $63,000 for a family of four, an amount that is higher than the nation’s median income. The Migration Policy Institute has found that 40% of native-born U.S. citizens would not meet that income threshold, as well as 56% of those who immigrated to the U.S. in the past 5 years.
Let’s be clear – this proposed rule is not about keeping immigrants off of public benefits. Since 1996, immigrants have been excluded from federal public benefits eligibility during their first five years after becoming permanent residents of the U.S., with limited exceptions such as FEMA disaster assistance and emergency Medicaid. And undocumented immigrants who are here while they wait to immigrate are also ineligible for federal benefits, with the same limited exceptions. This is a “solution” where no problem exists. Moreover, the government’s analysis and benefits thresholds are disingenuous and intellectually dishonest, according to this analysis by the Cato Institute.
Instead, the administration is trying to reduce immediate family immigration without involving Congress. The administration has pushed Congress multiple times to cut immediate family immigration nearly in half, and been repeatedly thwarted. But should this rule take effect as proposed, that will be the result. The bill ostensibly applies also to nonimmigrant (temporary) visa holders, and to those immigrating through employment, however, this is a smokescreen. As a practical matter, nonimmigrants do not get visas unless they are well-off or are entering on employment-based visas, and in that latter case they start work and support themselves immediately after arriving. Nonimmigrants also are ineligible for all but emergency-based public benefits in any case. Additionally, immigrants applying for residency through employment are typically professionals or highly skilled individuals with high incomes who are not likely to need public benefits. So, despite its breadth, this bill’s impact aims squarely at people immigrating through family.
About two-thirds of immigrants to the U.S. annually are immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. In Maine, from FY 2010- FY 2016, that translated into over 6600 new community members, workers and taxpayers added to the state’s population through family-based immigration. According to the Census, from 2010-2016, Maine’s population grew by only 3118 people. If the proposed rule had been in place during those years, family based immigration would have been halved, resulting in net population loss in Maine. With Maine’s aging population, shrinking workforce, and low unemployment rates, we need more immigrants, not less.
Immediate family immigrants bring their backgrounds with them, ranging from unskilled to highly educated and skilled and everything in between. Maine’s economy needs farmworkers and caregivers every bit as much as it needs highly trained professionals. Immediate family immigration has stimulated the nation for centuries and will continue to do so.
Public comments on the proposed rule change will be accepted through December 10, 2018 Comments can be submitted via the government’s comment portal. Comments longer than 5000 characters must be uploaded to that site. Note that you must specifically request that any links or attachments included in/with your comments be incorporated by reference and reviewed, otherwise they will be ignored.
MeBIC will submit comments opposing the rule change. Please join businesses across the country by submitting your own comment, using this Maine-specific comment template, or you can submit your own comment directly, here. Comments are due by 11:59 p.m. on December 10, 2018.
Please contact MeBIC to let us know that you submitted a comment.