Many people in Texas have serious concerns about changes to U.S. immigration law. In January 2020, the Supreme Court ruled to remove an injunction that had prevented the latest change from going into effect. This change makes it easier for the government to rule someone inadmissible for permanent residency based on a widely expanded list of “public charge” criteria. Legal immigrants seeking green cards who are considered “likely to use public benefits” may find their applications denied. While the public charge criterion has been part of immigration assessments for almost 140 years, the recent changes substantially expand the definition.

Many public health experts and immigration advocates have expressed serious concern about the changes, especially as they may encourage people to avoid accessing important services like Medicaid or housing assistance, many of which are used temporarily by people struggling to improve their lives. For people who have already filed green card applications before Feb. 24, the new rule will not apply to their existing applications. For those considering a future application, however, they might want to keep this change in mind when preparing to seek permanent residency.

In the past, transitory use of programs like Medicaid or Section 8 housing assistance would not be considered likely to make someone a “public charge,” but these will be considered under the change. However, some programs are still exempt, including nutrition programs for pregnant women, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), disaster relief programs and job training efforts.

Even under the new rule, no single factor may be sufficient to declare someone a public charge. Therefore, individuals who have made use of these programs could still apply for and receive permanent residency. An immigration law attorney could provide advice and guidance on how to navigate the system and craft an application that addresses these concerns.