New green card policy will impact Jamaicans

Venice
Williams-Gordon

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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Jamaicans often have family members in the US who petition on their behalf for green cards. In 2018, the US Embassy in Kingston issued over 13,000 immigrant visas/green cards.

On August 12, 2019, the Trump Administration introduced a new policy that is estimated to affect more than 400,000 people annually. Apart from the Jamaicans who received visa/green cards in 2018, it could also possibly affect over 8,000 Jamaicans in 2020 who are currently in the process of having family members petitioning for a green card on their behalf.

This policy will change how the US Government decides whether someone is a 'financial burden' on society or a 'public charge', allowing officials to deny applications for visas or green cards.

This policy will affect those who use or who will likely use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing vouchers, public housing, Medicaid or the low-income subsidy for prescription drug expenses through Medicare Part D.

This new policy could deny green cards to immigrants and make it more difficult for some to obtain legal status in the US.

The policy will take effect in October.

Federal law already requires those seeking green cards and legal status to prove that they will not be a burden to the US. This new policy will detail a broader range of programmes that could disqualify people seeking legal status.

Disqualification can also extend to the family members of those refused entry to the US. The new public assistance threshold, taken together with more stringent requirements for education, work skills and health, will make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services officers will now consider public assistance alongside other factors, such as education, household income and health, when determining whether to grant legal status.

The policy is the latest proposal by the Trump Administration to restrict immigration and is likely to face swift legal challenges from individuals. It marks a shift in the US to a system that focuses on immigrants' skills instead of emphasising the reunification of families, as in the past.

Under the new legislation, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is 'more likely than not' to receive public benefits for longer than 12 months within a 36-month period.

The receipt of two benefits will be counted over six months: double the benefits means halving the time in which they can be received before the label of 'public charge' is applied.

The definition of benefits received by public charges has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the SNAP. Therefore, for those with family in the US, any applications by relatives who are recipients of these programmes to petition on your behalf will be denied and your relatives may also run the risk of not being qualified for citizenship.

Green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years' worth of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. Immigrants with private health insurance will be favoured.

Who is exempted from the new policy?

1. US citizens even if the US citizen is related to an alien subject to public charge.

2. Under this new policy, women who are pregnant and on Medicaid or who need public assistance will not be subject to the new rules during their pregnancies and for 60 days after the birth of their babies.

3. The Medicare Part D low-income subsidy will not be considered a public benefit. Additionally, public benefits received by children up until age 21 will not be considered.

4. Recipients of emergency medical assistance, school lunch programmes, foster care or adoption, student loans and mortgages, food pantries, homeless shelters or disaster relief.

5. Active US military members are exempt, as are refugees or asylum seekers and officials have stated that the rules will not be applied retrospectively. However, the Trump Administration has moved to drastically reduce provision of asylum by the US.

IMPLICATIONS

1. Green card holders who receive public benefits will lose their chances for adjustment of status to citizenship.

2. Green card holders who wish to petition for a relative will no longer have the right to petition, as their status will have changed to a public charge resident of the US.

3. Green Card applicants may be denied if they have low incomes or little education because they are more likely to need government assistance in the future and, as such, the use of supplemental financial affidavits may no longer play a part in applications.

4. Persons who are under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and are receiving any of the public benefits above will be a 'public charge'. Therefore should the Trump Administration decide to formalise these people by providing a path to citizenship then such an individual will not be qualified.

5. Jamaicans holding green cards will now be reluctant to apply for these benefits in a bid to obtain citizenship. As a consequence, we may have to contend with more of our families not able to take care of themselves and returning home due to illness.

Venice Williams-Gordon is an attorney-aAt-law and a partner at Lewis, Smith, Williams & Company. She can be contacted at vwilliams@lswlegal.com


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