IMPORTANT UPDATE — MARCH 9, 2021: Both the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) public charge rule and the Department of State (DOS) public charge policy are currently not in effect. The DHS rule was halted on March 9, 2021, while the DOS policy was paused indefinitely on July 29, 2020. This page reflects those policies, which initially took effect on Feb. 24, 2020, and will not be immediately updated according to the previous, longstanding guidance issued in 1999. Learn more.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Friday that getting tested or seeking treatment for the coronavirus will not be counted against a would-be immigrant under the new public charge rule.
“USCIS encourages all those, including aliens, with symptoms that resemble coronavirus (COVID-19) (fever, cough, shortness of breath) to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services,” the agency said in a statement. “Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future public charge analysis.”
The rule, which went into effect last month, allows the U.S. government to deny green cards and other visas to people it believes won’t be able to financially support themselves once in the United States. An existing medical condition is considered a “negative factor” under the rule.
USCIS added: “To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).”
As the pandemic spreads across the United States at an alarming rate, there is rising fear among immigrants that seeking treatment for the virus could jeopardize their green card application.
Boundless co-founder and immigration policy expert Doug Rand called the USCIS announcement “inadequate,” and said that millions of people had already avoided public health services “based on misplaced fears intentionally propagated by this administration.”
“The only adequate response by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department to the pandemic is to immediately and loudly suspend the public charge rule in all its forms,” said Rand. “To do otherwise is to guarantee preventable suffering and death.”
A public charge decision is made based on the “totality of circumstances,” meaning that USCIS officials will weigh all positive and negative factors against one another. The decision isn’t only made based on your income, but also includes factors like your age, your education, and your health.
Some factors are “heavily weighted,” or viewed as more important, while others are deemed “regular,” or less important, factors.
Learn more here about how the public charge rule affects your green card application.