A federal agency has come up with a process for deciding whether noncitizens are likely to end up depending on government programs to survive.
The new federal regulations could cause headaches for insurance agents who advise noncitizen clients about health insurance.
Even if the noncitizen clients are in the United States legally, buying health insurance without understanding the new regulations could increase the odds they will be thrown out of the country.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — has included a number of provisions related to public and private health insurance programs in a new final rule on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds.”
The regulation deals with situations in which noncitizens are trying to enter the United States legally.
The regulation may also affect situations in which immigration officials are deciding, for example, whether people who are already in the country legally, and who have U.S. work visas, can become legal permanent residents of the United States, or whether legal permanent residents can become U.S. citizens. In some cases, rulings may determine whether people have been legal residents of the United States can continue to stay in the country.
Federal immigration laws already declare that a noncitizen who is likely to become a public charge is inadmissible.
Officials have been using rough guidelines that have been in place since 1999 to decide who’s likely to become a public charge.
The New Regulations, in General
In the new regulations, and the introduction to the regulations, USCIS officials provide lists of negative factors and positive factors that officials are supposed to use when considering whether a noncitizen is likely to become a public charge.
Officials have decided, for example, to leave benefits for refugees, use of Head Start preschool programs and use of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits out of the public charge determination process.
SSDI, for example, was left out because USCIS officials see the SSDI program as something workers pay for out of their own earnings.
The list of negative factors includes use of specified “public benefits” programs for more than 12 months within any 36 months. The term “public benefits” includes federal, state and local cash assistance programs; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and Medicaid benefits, except when Medicaid is used for certain emergency medical conditions.
The list of positive factors includes evidence that a noncitizen will earn a good living, or can depend on financial support from relatives.
The Health Insurance Provisions
The regulation lists having private health insurance as a “heavily weighted positive factor,” in part because USCIS has found that only 6% of noncitizens covered by private health insurance end up depending on public benefits programs.
About 30% of noncitizens without private health insurance end up depending on public benefits programs, officials say.