proposed rule

Relatives are shown helping an Indian bride prepare for her wedding day. A draft rule proposed by the Trump Administration would place a greater burden of financial stability on Indian immigrant couples. Doug Rand, a former Obama Administration official and founder of the technology company Boundless Immigration, boundless.com, told India-West the proposed rule could separate as many as 200,000 couples. Two-thirds of Indian Americans who received their green cards from 2014-16 did so through family-based migration. (Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)

A proposed rule by the Trump Administration, which seeks to exclude immigrants who have received federal benefits, could have a devastating impact on Indian immigrant couples.

The proposed ‘public charge’ rule – which amplifies an existing Department of Homeland Security policy that is seldom enforced – was announced by the Department of Homeland Security Sept. 23, and by US Citizenship and Immigration Services Sept. 24. 

After it is entered into the Federal Register, the proposal will undergo a 60-day public comment period before the final rule is issued.

The proposed policy, for the first time, increases the financial levels applicants must meet in order to be eligible for a green card. Currently, sponsors of applicants must show that they meet 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. But the proposed rule could set this income threshold as high as 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, about $52,000 annually for a couple with one child.

“If strictly enforced, this would mean DHS could begin denying more than half of all marriage green card applicants each year, forcing some 200,000 couples to either leave the United States together or live apart indefinitely,” Doug Rand, a former Obama Administration official and founder of the technology company Boundless Immigration, boundless.com, told India-West.

The Migration Policy Institute, which used immigration data culled from the years 2014 to 2016, said India was the top country of origin for legal non-citizens, with about 550,000 currently residing in the U.S. Two-thirds of Indian Americans who received their green cards during that period did so through family-based migration.

About 137,000 – 25 percent – had incomes below 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines, and would potentially have been denied green cards if the proposed new guidelines were in place.

Moreover, for the first time, the proposed rule mandates that both the sponsor and the applicant prove they meet or exceed the minimum income guidelines, which is troubling for Indian applicants, said Rand, noting that many Indian couples meet as students in the U.S., and are not allowed to work, yet must meet the minimum income requirements.

H-4 visa holders without work authorization may also have to prove income eligibility, despite their inability to work, he told India-West.

Boundless Immigration helps spousal green card applicants navigate the immigration system. Using data collected from its own clients, the company summated:

  • 31 percent of foreign-born spouses are unemployed when they apply for a marriage-based green card. Because student visas, visitor visas, and other common visas generally do not authorize employment in the United States, these spouses would be in an impossible situation—prevented from legally working yet required to earn an income.
  • 22 percent of foreign-born spouses are employed in the U.S. when they apply for a marriage-based green card but are in jobs that likely would not meet the new annual household income threshold proposed by DHS. This includes everything from cooks and factory workers to tutors and teaching assistants.
  • Therefore, about 53 percent of foreign-born spouses who are currently eligible for green cards could suddenly find themselves ineligible if the DHS public charge rule is enacted

The proposed rule has also broadened the definition of what constitutes a federal benefit to many needs-based benefits, including Medicaid, and anything necessary to meet basic living requirements, such as food stamps or housing subsidies. (See India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2OyZMhB)

“The administration is defining public benefits so broadly as to punish any immigrant who has used any federal resource,” Rand told India-West, noting that the administration is also attempting to deny green cards to those who could in the future need public benefits by using factors such as credit history, medical history, age, proficiency in English, and job prospects to determine green card eligibility.

Under the proposed rule, MPI summated that more than half of the non-citizen U.S. population could be at risk of a public charge determination. Interestingly, MPI noted that 40 percent of U.S. citizens would also not be able to meet the expanded minimum income requirements.

“From its earliest days, the Trump administration has been working to reduce family-based immigration to the United States and limit legal immigrants’ use of public benefits,” noted MPI in a policy statement, noting that the administration was attempting to reshape immigration policy “through the back door.”

In related news, Times of India reported that statistics released by the Census Bureau last week show that immigrants (both legal and illegal) comprised nearly 14% of the U.S. population, based on findings of the American Community Survey of 2017. According to the report, the ‘sending’ countries with the largest numerical increase in immigrants between 2010 and 2017 were India, China and the Dominican Republic.

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