Trump administration moves to restrict immigrants who use public benefits

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Saturday said it would propose making it harder for foreigners living in the United States to qualify for permanent U.S. residency if they have received public benefits such as food aid, public housing or Medicaid.

    The proposed regulation from the Department of Homeland Security would instruct immigration officers to consider whether a person has received a range of taxpayer-funded benefits to which they are legally entitled in determining whether a potential immigrant is likely to become a public burden.

U.S. immigration law has long required officials to exclude a person likely to become a “public charge” from permanent residence. But U.S. guidelines in place for nearly two decades narrowly define “public charge” to be a person “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” either through direct cash assistance or government-funded long-term care.

The Trump administration’s proposal is a sharp departure from current guidelines, which have been in place since 1999 and specifically bar authorities from considering such non-cash benefits in deciding a person’s eligibility to immigrate to the United States or stay in the country.

The changes would apply to those seeking visas or legal permanent residency, but they do not affect people applying for U.S. citizenship.

“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. “This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

The proposed regulation will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, officials said, the first step toward final adoption. The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal, and the agency must consider all submitted comments and could change the regulation before the final version is adopted, likely in several months.

Immigrant advocates have criticized the administration’s plan, which was first reported by Reuters in February when it was in an early draft form, saying that it is an effort to cut legal immigration without going through Congress to change U.S. law. They also believe the rule could negatively affect public health by dissuading immigrants from using health or food aid to which they or their children are entitled.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sandra Maler)