Applying for permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States has become a very cumbersome process due to the continuous flow of new regulations by the U.S. government. The main purpose for the new regulations is to limit the number of legal immigrants to this country. For this purpose, the government is continually changing the required qualifications for those who are applying for permanent residency.
Currently, there are many ways for applying for permanent residency. The most common, up to 65 percent according to the White House, is family-based immigration, which requires a petition by a family member, a parent or a sibling that is already here. Others are through a sponsorship by a U.S. employer, a marriage-based Green Card, and the diversity immigration lottery that grants up to 50,000 permanent residencies per year to applicants from a selected number of countries.
In the last year, there was an increase in the following: 1) the number of bureaucratic barriers; 2) the cost to process an application; and 3) the number of unnecessary documents required to obtain a permanent residency visa. All these regulations intend to make it more difficult to obtain permanent residency and citizenship. The President has expressed concerns about family reunification as a way to obtain a permanent visa. In order to reduce the number of immigrants sponsored by a family member the government plans to give priority to those highly skilled applicants who currently represent only 12 percent of visa grantees. In addition, other factors such as age, English language ability, and employment offers are also considered.
The public charge rule is the one of the most restrictive regulations by the federal government aimed at reducing the number of legal immigrants sponsored by a family member. For purposes of determining inadmissibility, “public charge” means an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense (See the USCIS webpage). The government is also planning to cancel the visa lottery.
Congress first established the Public Charge rule in 1882 in order to allow the U.S. government to deny a U.S. visa to anyone who “is likely at any time to become a public charge.” Since 1999, immigration officers have adopted a guiding principle that defines public charge as someone “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” as demonstrated by either (a) using public cash assistance for income maintenance or (b) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Specifically, this has included: 1) Supplemental Security Income (SSI); 2) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly known as welfare; 3) State and local cash assistance, sometimes called “General Assistance”; and 4) Medicaid or other programs supporting long-term institutionalized care, such as in a nursing home or mental health institution.
The Department of Homeland Security plans to expand dramatically the definition of “public charge” so that Green Card or other visa applicants can be denied not only on the basis of being “primarily dependent on the government for assistance,” but also for using “one or more public benefit” in the past or being likely at any time “to receive such benefits in the future.” The following are the factors that immigration officers must take into account when determining whether or not a visa applicant is likely to become a “public charge” at any point in the future: 1) Age, younger than 18 and older than 61; 2) Health, scrutinize any medical condition and assess whether this condition could affect the applicant’s ability to work; 3) Family size, having more children or other dependents could increase the likelihood of a visa denial; 4) Skills, to determine whether an applicant has “adequate education and skills to either obtain or maintain employment,” a proficiency in English is required; 5) Financial status, beyond looking at an applicant’s income and assets, DHS plans to assess credit history, credit score, and financial liabilities.
Other causes for inadmissibility are: 1) carrying endemic diseases such as tuberculosis, STD and HIV, which could become a risk to local residents. Having or having had some cancers and not having all the required vaccinations are other causes for not obtaining the Green Card; 2) Use and abuse of alcohol and drugs; 3) Problems with the law in the past; 4) Gang membership; 5) Submitting a fraudulent application in the past; 6) Having been deported; 7) Having brought a relative or friend illegally into the country; 8) Having pretended to be a U.S. citizen; 9) Having voted in a past election.
The increased cost of application became another important barrier to obtaining permanent residency. Each of the routes cited above has unique costs that depend on attorney’s fees and individual circumstances. Family-based petitions could cost up to $4,000 including attorney’s fees. To sponsor a family member, the petitioner first files a Form I-130, petition for Alien Relative, which costs $535 to file. After approval, the applicant needs to file the Form I-485, “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” for a $1,225 fee. This includes the $85 Biometrics fee and applies to those who are between the ages of 14 and 78. The cost to sponsor a fiancé is $535. Most employment petitions require a job offer in the United States; the government gives priority to applicants with advanced degrees, with the cost of these visas at about $10,000.
The new regulations are not only affecting immigrants seeking permanent residency in the U.S., these regulations could also have a negative impact on sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, higher education, and others. A report from the National Association of Manufacturers states that “The most important way immigrants benefit the U.S. economy . . . is their possession of different skills and job preferences from those displayed by native-born Americans, thereby making the latter more productive” (Furchtgott-Roth, quoted in National Association of Manufacturers, 2017, p. 3). The report concludes citing “Opportunities are available for all skill types, and employees are seeking a diverse pool of workers in order to meet current demand and needs. Employers need to know there will be people available—with all skill types—for employment today and in the future” (National Association of Manufacturers, 2017, p. 3).
Department of Homeland Security, https://www.uscis.gov/legal-resources/final-rule-public-charge-ground-inadmissibility.
National Association of Manufacturers, 2017, “Challenges and Solutions for the Next President and Congress, Competing to Win: Immigration in Focus.”