Frontera Fund News Trump Watch

Department of State Moves to Restrict Legal Immigration With Stricter Guidelines

Written by Carmen Cornejo

The Trump administration is making small but significant changes to processes that result in stricter standards intended to curb legal immigration.

The latest move: a discreet change in the Department of State’s (DOS) Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) to increase the threshold to the public charge definition, and thus increase the grounds for inadmissibility for both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants.

This is the FAM section that has been modified earlier this year.

This is important in several aspects. First, it means that the State Department (not the Department of Homeland Security or any of its agencies) is changing policy in order to limit immigration.

Second, DOS-FAM is making tougher for visa applicants or their sponsors to demonstrate the individual will not be a “public charge” and that they have enough personal or private economic support to live or visit the USA.

Public charge is defined by USCIS as “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’.

Many persons seeking a visa are not able to sustain themselves, such as children, elderly individuals, disable persons and some housewives. Then, these individuals are asked to find a sponsor who signs an affidavit stating that he/she will take care of the individual being petitioned. It could be a parent, a spouse or a relative.

If an individual cannot demonstrate that will not be a public charge, he or she can be declared inadmissible and be denied a visa to enter the USA, for different purposes, either to visit the USA as a tourist or to fulfill a family petition.

How is the likelihood of becoming a public charge established? Federal agents analyze a set of circumstances such as the following:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Family status
  • Assets
  • Resources
  • Financial status
  • Education and skills

We already wrote with Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund about the intentions to add non-cash benefits to the list of actions that will prevent a person to become a permanent resident.

“In the past, in order to evaluate the economic situation of an applicant who was petitioned by a family member for immigration purposes, USCIS analyzed the likelihood that the individual would not become a public charge. The consular agents corroborated this analysis and stamped the visa.

Now the consulate agents are highly scrutinizing again the economic situation of the individuals, including in cases where there is substantial evidence that the sponsor has economic means, such in the case of American citizens’ spouses.  I had a recent case where a spouse coming from Africa was denied an immigrant visa to reunite with her husband, a  well-off business owner, arguing she may become a public charge, said Marcos E. Garciaacosta a lawyer working with business owners in the Phoenix metro area.

In summary, the new policy FAM 302.8-2B requires consular officers to exanimate visa applicants in every case (this emphasis is made in the document) of all the items listed above. Another change is the encouragement to consular officers “to consider the likelihood that the sponsor will support the visa applicant”.

Additionally, this new FAM puts emphasis on agents finding if the applicant or a family member in the applicant’s household is currently receiving or has received public assistance of any kind, not only cash but also non-cash supplemental benefits. In fact, the new policy has erased the previous language prohibiting the consideration of past or possible future use of non-cash benefit such as food stamps (SNAP), Child Insurance Program (CHIP), Women Infants and Children (WIC) Medicaid of other health benefits.

All these new requirements mean that the applications may take more time and more documentation to be processed and will make some individuals highly vulnerable to be refused a visa on public charge grounds such as minors, older individuals, housewives or husbands and others who cannot prove education and marketable job skills.

It also means that the administration is taking extraordinary steps to change policy different federal entities in order to reduce legal immigration.