Last-minute changes from State Department complicate admission of low-income immigrants

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — The State Department rushed to implement its new public charge rule —  giving only a weekend’s notice of changed requirements before they were implemented Feb. 24. The agency finalized its new public charge questionnaire and policy guidance late on Friday and made them effective today, giving no time for applicants, practitioners, or consular officers to adjust to the changes.

The new rule imposes radical changes to a long-standing interpretation of public charge. Beginning today, applicants for an immigrant visa will need to demonstrate how their income, job skills, age, education, and enrollment in health insurance meet this higher standard.

“This is simply the latest effort by this administration to reduce family-based immigration, particularly from developing countries,” said Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director. “It is an end-run around Congress, which has voted down such efforts in the past.”

Charles Wheeler, an attorney with CLINIC who has focused on public charge, calls it “an unholy mess. This is going to cause major disruptions at consulates around the world. Applicants have been given no time to prepare for the heightened questions they will face beginning today.”

The State Department’s new public charge rule affects almost all applicants for an immigrant visa. CLINIC and other organizations have sued to stop its implementation. A hearing on that motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard Feb. 28 in the Southern District of New York in Make the Road New York, et al v. Pompeo. A related challenge to the Department of Homeland Security’s public charge rule was successful, although the Supreme Court Jan. 27, in a 5-4 decision, granted the government’s motion to allow the rule to be implemented while the case is on appeal.

See CLINIC’s library of materials related to public charge changes on our website.