\ fr \ Federal Register Publications (CIS, ICE, CBP) \ Federal Register Publications (Legacy INS) - 1999 \ FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICES - 1999 \ Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds [64 FR 28689] [FR 27-99] \ Repayment of Public Benefits
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Repayment of Public Benefits
IIRIRA did not create any requirement that aliens repay benefits received in the past in order to avoid being found inadmissible on public charge grounds, nor has such a requirement existed in the past. Accordingly, officers should not instruct or suggest that aliens must repay benefits previously received as a condition of admission or adjustment, and they should not request proof of repayment as a condition for finding the alien admissible to the United States. (See INS Memorandum. "Public Charge. INA Se
ctions 212(a)(4) and 237(a)(5)--Duration of Departure for LPRs and Repayment of Public Benefits," dated December 16, 1997, for further discussion.)
Repayment is relevant to the public charge inadmissibility determination only in very limited circumstances. If at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status the alien is deportable on public charge grounds under section 237(a)(5) of the INA due to an outstanding public debt for a cash benefit or the costs of institutionalization, then the alien is inadmissible. Only a debt that satisfies the three-part test under section 237(a)(5), described below, will render an alien deportable as a pu
blic charge and therefore ineligible for admission or adjustment. If the debt is paid, then the alien will no longer be inadmissible based on the debt, and the usual totality of the circumstances test would apply. that an alien repay a public debt which meets the three-part test, it may inform an alien that if the alien does not repay the debt, he or she will continue to be inadmissible to the United States. Adjudicators should make sure also to inform aliens that even if they pay the debt, they may still b
e determined to be inadmissible as an alien likely to become a public charge under the totality of the circumstances test.
If an INS officer finds evidence of possible benefit fraud in the course of performing his or her immigration duties, that information should be forwarded through official channels to the appropriate benefit-granting agency for possible investigation and enforcement action. In such cases, absent a determination of fraud by the benefit-granting agency, immigration benefits to which the alien is otherwise entitled should not be withheld or denied.
3. Public Charge Determination--Deportation
The determination of whether an alien is subject to removal under section 237(a)(5) is quite different from the determination of whether an alien is inadmissible under section 212(a)(4), although in both contexts the focus is on the receipt of cash benefits for income maintenance purposes. Section 237(a)(5) of the INA states that "[a]ny alien who, within 5 years after the date of entry, has become a public charge from causes not affirmatively shown to have arisen since entry is deportable." This section req
uires a two-step determination. First, the Service must determine whether the alien has become a public charge within 5 years after the date of entry.
Second, if the alien has become a public charge, then the Service must determine whether the alien has demonstrated that the circumstances that caused the alien to become a public charge arose after the alien's entry into the United States. An alien who can make such a showing is not removable under section 237(a)(5).
We respect to whether an alien has become a public charge, the Attorney General has determined that the mere receipt of a public benefit by an alien does not make an alien a public charge for purposes of deportation under section 237(a)(5). Rather, in Matter of B, 3 I. & N. Dec. 323 (BIA and AG 1948),
the Attorney General established a strict three-part test to determine if an alien has become a public charge. In order for an alien to become a public charge under section 237(a)(5), the following 3 requirements must be met:
(1) The state or other government entity that provides the benefit must, by law, impose a charge or fee for the services rendered to the alien. In other words, the alien or designated relatives or friends must be legally obligated to repay the benefit-granting agency for the benefits or services provided, if there is no reimbursement requirement under law, the alien cannot be said to be a public charge.
(2) The responsible benefit-granting agency officials must make a demand for payment for the benefit or services from the alien or other persons legally responsible for the debt under federal or state law (e.g., the alien's sponsor).
(3) The alien and other persons legally responsible for the debt fail to repay after a demand has been made.
The demand for repayment must be made within 5 years of an alien's entry in order to render the alien deportable as a public charge.
In addition, the Service has determined that, in order
for an alien to become deportable as a public charge as a result of the failure of the sponsor to repay the agency, the benefit-granting agency must take all available actions to collect from the sponsor. This includes filing an action in the appropriate court and taking all steps available under law to enforce a final judgment against the sponsor or other obligated party.
Deportations based on public charge grounds have been rare, and the new immigration and welfare laws are not likely to change this. First, for aliens who are not sponsored under the new AOS, it is unlikely that there will be a legal obligation to repay public benefits or that the benefit-granting agency will make a demand for repayment. Thus, just as in the past, the first two prongs of the
Matter of B
test generally will not be satisfied. Only aliens who apply for immigrant visas or adjustment of status on or after December 19, 1997, may be sponsored under the new, enforceable AOS, which could satisfy the standards for deportation under
. However, under the new welfare reform laws, these same aliens will generally be barred from receiving federal means-tested public benefits for the first 5 years after admission or adjustment--the critical period for purposes of deportability.
In addition, under the "deeming" rules, and the sponsor's spouse's income and resources will be attributed to the alien in assessing his or her eligibility to receive a means-tested benefit, which would normally raise the alien's income over the benefit eligibility threshold. Only if an immigrant receives a cash benefit for income-maintenance within 5 years of entry or is institutionalized for long-term care (despite the eligibility limitations), there is a demand for repayment by the benefit-granting agen
cy, and the sponsor or other responsible party fails to repay, can the immigrant become deportable as a public charge. However, even in this case, the alien must be given an opportunity to prove that he or she became a public charge for causes that arose after entry. If an alien can make such a showing, he or she will not be deportable as a public charge. Thus, the Service is unlikely to see a significant increase in cases of deportability on public charge grounds.
4. Exceptions From Public Charge Determinations
Under the new laws, refugees and asylees remain exempt from public charge determinations for purposes of admission and adjustment of status pursuant to sections 207, 208, and 209 of the INA. Similarly, Amerasian immigrants are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility for their initial admission.
In addition, various statutes contain exceptions to the public charge ground of inadmissibility for aliens eligible for benefits under their provisions, including the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), the Nigaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), and the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA).
These laws provide avenues of adjustment for certain aliens--including Cuban/Haitian entrants,
who remain eligible for many public benefits under welfare reform--without subjecting them to screening as potential public charges.
Most LPRs who have been outside the United States for 180 days or less are not applicants for admission and therefore are not subject to the grounds of inadmissibility, pursuant to section 101(a)(13)(C) of the INA.
Accordingly, absent an indication that they may be applicants for admission, such LPRs should not routinely be questioned on issues related to the likelihood that they will become a public charge.
Under section 249 of the INA, which allows aliens who have been in the United States since January 1, 1972, to "register" as LPRs, public charge is not a factor in determining eligibility. Receipt of public benefits is not an adverse factor in meeting the "good moral character" requirement for registry, absent evidence that an applicant procured or attempted to procure such benefits through fraud or misrepresentation.
5. Receipt of Benefits by Children and Other Family Members
The Service has addressed the issue of receipt of benefits by children and other family members in a number of memoranda on the issue of public charge for aliens applying for legalization under section 245A of the INA. The Service's approach to the receipt of benefits by family members in the legalization context has been upheld in federal court and should govern the question for general public charge determinations as well.
The rule is well summarized in an April 21, 1988, memorandum from the Associate Commissioner for Examinations to the Regional Commissioners.
As a general rule, the receipt of * * * benefits by a member of the * * * applicant's family is not attributable to the applicant for purposes of determining the likelihood that the applicant will become a public charge. * * * If, however, the family is reliant on the * * * benefits as its sole means of support, the * * * applicant may be considered to have received public cash assistance. This determination is to be made on a case-by-case basis and upon consideration of the totality of the applicant's circ
Although this memorandum specifically addressed the receipt of cash assistance under the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the rule is applicable generally to other cash benefit programs that may give rise to public charge determinations (See section 6.A below.) Accordingly, Service officers should not attribute cash benefits received by U.S. citizen or alien children or other family members to alien applicants for purposes of determining whether the applicant is likely to becom
e a public charge, absent evidence that the family is reliant on the family member's benefits as its sole means of support.
6. Benefits That May and May Not Be Considered for Public Charge
The term "public charge" has not been defined in law or regulation and, in the past, the Service has not provided comprehensive guidance on all kinds of benefits that could cause an alien to be considered a public charge. In light of the new laws and the complexity of the federal, state, and local public benefits system, this issue now requires that the Service adopt uniform standards. Accordingly, the Service is publishing a proposed rule for notice and comment, as noted above. The proposed standards take
into account the law and public policy decisions concerning alien eligibility for public benefits and public health considerations, as well as past practice by the Service and the Department of State.
It has never been Service policy that any receipt of services or benefits paid for in whole or in part from public funds renders an alien a public charge, or indicates that the alien is likely to become a public charge. The nature of the public program must be considered. For instance, attending public schools, taking advantage of school lunch or other supplemental nutrition programs, or receiving emergency medical care would not make an alien inadmissible as a public charge, despite the use of public funds
. While the Service has not previously issued guidance on a program-by-program basis, the Department of State did codify its policy in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), excluding Food Stamps from consideration for public charge purposes because of its "supplemental" nature.
The Service is now taking a similar
approach by adopting a definition of public charge that focuses on whether the alien is or is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. After extensive consultation with benefit-granting agencies, the Service has determined that the best evidence of whether an alien is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence is either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.
The Service is proposing this definition by regulation and adopting it on an interim basis for several reasons. First, confusion about the relationship between the receipt of public benefits and the concept of "public charge" has deterred eligible aliens and their families, including U.S. citizen children, from seeking important health and nutrition benefits that they are legally entitled to receive. This reluctance to access benefits has an adverse impact not just on the potential recipients, but on public
health and the general welfare. Second, non-cash benefits (other than institutionalization for long-term care) are by their nature supplemental and do not, alone or in combination, provide sufficient resources to support an individual or family. In addition to receiving non-cash benefits, an alien would have to have either additional income--such as wages, savings, or earned retirement benefits--or public cash assistance. Thus, by focusing on cash assistance for income maintenance, the Service can identify
those who are primarily dependent on the government for subsistence without inhibiting access to non-cash benefits that serve important public interests. Finally, certain federal, state, and local benefits are increasingly being made available to families with incomes far above the poverty level, reflecting broad public policy decisions about improving general public health and nutrition, promoting education, and assisting working-poor families in the process of becoming self-sufficient. Thus, participati
on in such non-cash programs is not evidence of poverty or dependence.
In adopting this new definition, the Service does not expect to substantially change the number of aliens who will be found deportable or inadmissible as public charges. First, under the stricter eligibility rules of the welfare reform laws, many legal aliens are no longer eligible to receive certain types of public benefits, so they run no risk of becoming public charges by virtue of receiving such benefits. Many of those who remain eligible for federal, state, and local public benefits are LPRs, refugees,
and asylees, who are unlikely to face public charges screening in any case in light of the section 101(a)(13)C) and the statutory exceptions.
Further, in light of the Matter of B test,
deportations on public charge grounds have been rare and are expected to remain so. With respect to admissibility, the new AOS has already raised the threshold for many families to demonstrate that a sponsored alien is not likely to become a public charge. In addition, the statutory factors under section 212(a)(4)(B) continue to apply. This, while the Service will not take an alien's past or current receipt of non-cash benefits such as medical assistance into account for public charge purposes, the alien's
age, health, and resources must be considered (along with the other statutory factors) in determining whether he or she is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence in the future.
The rules governing alien eligibility for federal, state, and local public benefits are complex and subject to change, including significant state-by-state variations. INS officers are not expected to know the substantive eligibility rules for different public benefit programs. Rather, this guidance and the proposed rule are intended to make public charge determinations simpler and more uniform, while simultaneously providing greater predictability to the public.
A. Benefits That May Be Considered for Public Charge Purposes
Cash assistance for income maintenance and institutionalization for long-term care at government expense may be considered for public charge purposes. Programs that provide such benefits include:
1. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of Social Security Act;
2. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance (part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act--the successor to the AFDC program);
3. State and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits for income maintenance (often called "General Assistance" programs); and
4. Programs (including Medicaid) supporting aliens who are institutionalized for long-term care e.g., in a nursing home or mental health institution).
Past or current receipt of such cash benefits does not lead to a per se determination that an alien is either inadmissible or deportable as a public charge. Rather, such benefits should be taken into account under the totality of the circumstances test for purposes of admission/adjustment and should be considered for deportation purposes under the standards of section 237(a)(5) and
Matter of B
Note that not all cash assistance is provided for purposes of income maintenance, and thus not all cash assistance is relevant for public charge purposes. For example, some energy assistance programs provide supplemental benefits through cash payments, in addition to vouchers or in-kind benefits, depending on the locality and the type of fuel needed. Likewise, cash payments could also be provided for child care assistance. Such supplemental, special-purpose cash benefits should not be considered in public
charge determinations because they are not evidence of primary dependence on the government for subsistence.
B. Benefits That May Not Be Considered for Public Charge Purposes
Non-cash benefits (other than institutionalization for long-term care) should not be taken into account in making public charge determinations, nor should special-purpose cash assistance that is not intended for income maintenance. Therefore, past, current, or future receipt of these benefits should not be considered in deterining whether an alien is or is likely to become a public charge. Further, an alien need not repay benefits already received or withdraw form a benefit program in order to be eligible f
or admission or adjustment of status.
It is not possible to list all the supplemental non-cash benefits or special-purpose cash benefits that an alien may receive that should not be considered for public charge purposes, but common examples include:
1. Medicaid and other health insurance and health services (including public assistance for immunizations and for testing and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases; use of health clinics, short-term rehabilitation services, and emergency medical services) other than support for long-term institutional care,
2. Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
3. Nutrition programs, including Food Stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program, and other supplementary and emergency food assistance programs;
4. Housing benefits;
5. Child care services;
6. Energy assistance, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
7. Emergency disaster relief;
8. Foster care and adoption assistance;
9. Educational assistance, including benefits under the Head Start Act and aid for elementary, secondary, or higher education;
10. Job training programs; and
11. In-kind, community-based programs, services, or assistance (such as soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and short-term shelter).
State and local programs that are similar to the federal programs listed above should also be excluded from consideration for public charge purposes. Note that states may adopt different names for the same or similar publicly funded programs. In California, for example, Medicaid is called "Medi-Cal" and CHIP is called "Healthy Families." It is the underlying nature of the program, not the name adopted in a particular state, that determines whether or not it should be considered for public charge purposes.
In addition, and consistent with existing Service practice, cash payments that have been earned, such as Title II Social Security benefits, government pensions, and veterans' benefits, among other forms of earned benefits, do not support a public charge determination.