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Come October 2019, the new immigration changes announced on August 12, 2019, by the Trump administration will take effect. What is that policy? That immigrants who receive public assistance from the US government, or who are more likely to receive such assistance will be denied residency visas and green cards. This is another move by the Trump administration to block immigrants entering the US. This new move also targets legal immigrants who wish to become US citizens.
Far-reaching Impacts of Immigration Policy
Estimates suggest that this new immigration policy will impact 400,000 people or more every year. That is the estimated number of persons who seek to migrate to the United States each year. In other words, this new arrangement could affect many of the 22 million legal residents who are non-citizens and an estimated 10.5 million persons who are unauthorised immigrants in the US. Many persons affected are also long-term residents in the country.
The adjustment in US immigration policy will also have far-reaching effects on Jamaicans both here and in the US.
Just how far-reaching?
Some 8,000 Jamaicans who are currently waiting on the outcome of petitions made on their behalf will be affected. Last year more than 13,000 Jamaicans received immigrant visas or green cards. The number might fall next year as these immigration changes gain traction.
Persons on Public Assistance to be denied
The US Government will use more factors to determine who is a ‘financial burden’ or a ‘public charge’. US immigration officials can use them to deny immigrant visa and green card applications.
Not only will this new policy deny immigrants a green card, but it will also prevent green card holders from obtaining US citizenship once they remain on public assistance.
So, anyone who is currently on Medicaid or the subsidy prescription program for low-income families (Medicare Part D), Section 8 housing vouchers, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and public housing will have more difficulty securing legal status in the US. The US government will also reject immigrant visa applications from persons who are likely to use public assistance.
Immigrants Must Prove Financial Independence
US Federal law demands that persons seeking green cards or legal residency status must prove that they are financially independent. They must prove that they do not need medical assistance, unemployment benefits, subsidised housing, food stamps, and other state or federal support. In short, immigrants to the US must stand on their own two feet.
The adjustment by the Trump administration includes additional public assistance programmes that disqualify beneficiaries from acquiring legal residency status.
Even family members of persons who were refused entry into the US will have difficulty becoming US citizens. So, together with existing stringent immigration requirements for skills, education, and health, the new public charge threshold will make it difficult to qualify for green cards. Also, the US Department of Homeland Security redefined a ‘public charge’ as anyone who is more likely than not to receive public assistance for more than 12 months within a 36-month period.
The US Department of Homeland Security, however, considers beneficiaries of two or more public assistance as ‘public charge’ within six months (instead of 12).
Relatives on public assistance can no longer file petitions
So, Jamaicans relying on a US-based relative to “file” for them stand a better chance if she is not on public assistance. Relatives on public assistance cannot petition on behalf of Jamaicans to enter the US. A relative who receives public assistance also runs the risk of disqualification for US citizenship.
Applicants for a US green card must also present federal tax returns covering three years. They must also produce an employment history. However, immigrants who use private health insurance stand a better chance of success under this new immigration arrangement.
Implications of the New Immigration Changes
So, what are the implications really?
Jamaicans wishing to migrate to the US will be disqualified if it is determined that they are likely to use any of a wide range of public assistance programmes. Any hint that the immigrant will use public assistance in the future means no immigrant visa.
Also, Jamaicans who are already holders of US green cards will hesitate to petition for relatives wishing to migrate. Under these new immigration changes, they will have little or no incentive to do so. Anyway, they cannot file petitions on behalf of relatives in Jamaica even if they wanted to. That is, once they are themselves using Medicare and other public assistance.
Furthermore, holders of green cards on public assistance will have difficulty qualifying for US citizenship. That is as a result of their adjusted status as a ‘public charge’ US resident. Also, applicants for green cards who are low-income earners or poorly educated may be denied permanent residency. This high chance of denial is owing to the possibility that they will need public assistance from the US government. Consequently, they can no longer use the supplemental financial affidavits to support their visa applications.
Furthermore, individuals who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) may be denied their path to US citizenship if they are a ‘public charge’ receiving benefits under any of the public assistance program cited. This implication also applies to Jamaicans who are considered to be DACAs. Finally, Jamaican green card holders may be scared away from applying for public assistance as this would harm their chances of becoming US citizens.
Consequently, Jamaica may have to contend with an increasing number of Jamaicans in the US who may not able to care for themselves. Such persons may return to the island due to illness. Furthermore, the new US immigration changes will reduce the number of unskilled persons leaving Jamaica as these measures take effect.
On the other hand, Jamaica will continue to lose its tertiary trained, highly skilled residents. They will be more successful in migrating under this new arrangement. The United States and other countries favour these types of legal immigrants. On the flip side, low skilled and poorly educated persons deemed as ‘public charge’ individuals will have a tougher time migrating.
Reactions to the new US immigration changes from Washington were swift. The Democrats in Congress said they would fight these new measures. Pro-migrant activists plan to file suit. A tweet from Donna Shalala, a Democrat representing the state of Florida, sums up the prevailing mood among Democrats:
“This Administration scapegoats immigrants, emboldens white supremacists, and tears families apart. This is racist policy. We will continue fighting to #ProtectFamilies.”
The White House defended its decision, indicating that a high number of migrants have taken advantage of ‘generous public benefits’. The US provides such benefits with limited resources that could have gone to vulnerable Americans. According to the White House, approximately 50 percent of all non-citizen households include at least one person who uses Medicaid. It further stated that 78 percent of households headed by a non-US citizen possessing only a high school education benefit from at least one welfare programme.
Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services said, “Through the public charge rule, President Trump’s Administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America.”
So, come October 2019 Jamaicans wishing to migrate must prove that they won’t need help from Uncle Sam.