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MPI Estimates No More than 167,000 Non-Citizens Could Be Ineligible for Green Cards Based on Current Public Benefits Use
Press Release
Thursday, March 5, 2020

MPI Estimates No More than 167,000 Non-Citizens Could Be Ineligible for Green Cards Based on Current Public Benefits Use

WASHINGTON – While the new Trump administration public charge rule is likely to vastly reshape future legal immigration based on its test to assess if a person might ever use public benefits in the future, the universe of non-citizens who could be denied a green card based on current benefits use is quite small.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that no more than 167,000 people—less than 1 percent of the 22.1 million non-citizens in the United States—could be deemed ineligible for a green card based on current use of a listed benefit in the public charge rule that took effect February 24.

Why are so few immigrants likely to be denied green cards based on benefit use when MPI and others have issued far larger estimates of the non-citizen population at risk for disenrollment amid fear and confusion about the rule?

In a word, because there are very few benefit programs open to non-citizens who do not already hold a green card—the result of mid-1990s welfare changes that limited these benefits almost entirely to U.S. citizens, refugees and asylees, and green-card holders. Non-citizens who are both eligible for benefits and subject to the public charge test at the green-card application stage fall into a very limited set of mostly humanitarian immigration statuses.

MPI finds three small groups of resident non-citizens, representing no more than 167,000 people, may be qualified to receive benefits listed in the rule and potentially subject to it:

  1. Non-citizens with uncommon statuses. These typically are temporary humanitarian statuses that do not directly lead to a green card, but that offer access to some federally funded public benefits. They include:
  • Haitians who are paroled into the United States or who enter as asylum seekers
  • Cubans who enter as asylum seekers (those who are paroled into the country have a path to a green card not subject to the public charge test)
  • Certain citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands or Palau, who can lawfully reside and work in the United States under the Compact of Free Association
  • People who obtained temporary legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) but never adjusted to a green card
  • Lawfully present members of the Hmong and Lao communities that helped the United States during the Vietnam War but never obtained a green card.
  1. Non-citizens in 17 states, including Arizona, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington, who get certain state-funded cash benefits. This group includes individuals, typically with temporary humanitarian statuses, who do not have green cards but who may qualify for cash assistance at state expense.
  2. Green-card holders who leave the United States for more than six months. These individuals must pass the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) public charge test to be readmitted.

The MPI estimates likely represent an overcount because there may be some overlap between the statuses, some of these individuals may never apply for a green card, others may get one through a route (such as asylum) exempt from the public charge test, and still others may be eligible for public benefits but never use them or not meet other eligibility requirements for the benefits.

“For government agencies and non-governmental organizations that serve immigrant populations, outreach to better explain the rule and who is—and is not—affected is important,” the commentary concludes.

The commentary is the work of MPI’s recently created Human Services Initiative, led by Senior Fellow Mark Greenberg, a former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acting assistant secretary. It is also a product of MPI’s U.S. Immigration Program, funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

MPI has a range of research and data resources that assess how the public charge rule could reshape legal immigration based on the test assessing possible future benefits use, and how fear and confusion surrounding the rule could chill participation in public benefit programs.

Today’s commentary can be found here: www.migrationpolicy.org/news/public-charge-denial-green-cards-benefits-use.

Find all of MPI’s work on public charge here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/human-services-initiative.