Visas linked to ‘public charge’ could hurt South Asians: UCLA report

Ritu Jha –


The Trump administration’s plan to target those on working visas who had to rely on public assistance affect hundreds of thousands of South Asians in California, according to a recently published report from the University of California Los Angeles(UCLA).


According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, the UC Berkeley Labor Center and California Food Policy Advocates, a nonprofit organization, the measure could see the state lose up to $1.67 billion in federal benefits, suffer 47 percent job losses in health care sector; 10 percent in the state’s food-related industries and also threaten public health.


US immigration officials use the term “public charge” to describe people applying for a green card who are deemed likely to become primarily dependent on the government to meet their basic needs. Under proposed changes to Department of Homeland Security immigration rules that could be implemented as soon as spring 2019, people could be denied status as lawful permanent residents if they have received certain health care, housing or nutrition assistance benefits.


The window for public comments about the proposed changes to the “Public Charge” ends December 10. There is more information at the Protecting Immigrant Families website {].


AJ Scheitler, director of stakeholder relations, and coordinator of the National Network of State and Local Health Surveys, quoted to indica the California Health Interview Survey estimates stating that approximately 8 percent of South Asians are enrolled in Medi-Cal.


She said that 17 percent of all non-citizen South Asians are low-income (under 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and may need government support for food, health care and housing at some point as they settle their families in the US.


“With over 1 million South Asians in California, this proposed rule could affect hundreds of thousands in the South Asian community,” Scheitler said.


Tia Shimada, director of programs at California Food Policy Advocates, wrote in the report, “One in 10 Californians use CalFresh to put enough food on the table.”


The report said only two public programs — cash assistance and long-term institutional care — are considered for the public charge test. If the proposed changes are enacted, immigrant parents of citizen children and immigrant individuals who use Medi-Cal health insurance (California’s Medicaid program), Medicare Part D low-income subsidies, housing assistance, and CalFresh nutrition assistance (California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) could have reduced chances of being approved for a green card.


In addition, the rule adds harsher standards for personal circumstances that make someone less likely to receive a green card, such as having limited English proficiency, limited education and low income, being a child or a senior.


Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research stated in the report, “Immigrants make crucial contributions to California’s workforce, economy and tax base. The proposed changes to the ‘public charge’ test would significantly reduce the use of much-needed public programs among those who are eligible, and the economic ripple effect would hurt communities statewide.”


California is home to nearly 40 million people, and more than a quarter of our population was not born in the United States,” Ponce wrote.


Scheitler told indica, “The next step in the process is that the government must review all comments… If the administration moves forward with the rule change after reviewing all comments, the rule would take 60 days to take effect. But, unfortunately, there is no timeline for them to follow, and no way of knowing when a decision will be made.”


The report’s authors believe that misinformation, confusion and fear generated by the proposed changes could drive people to disenroll from public assistance programs, even if they are not legally subject to the new test. They estimate that as many as 301,000 Californians could remove themselves from the CalFresh nutrition assistance program and that up to 741,000 could drop their Medi-Cal coverage. The analysis indicates that this disenrollment would primarily hurt children, Latinos and Asians, while increasing poverty, hunger, and poor health in communities across California.


According to Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described the measures as being vindictive.


“The Trump administration’s changes to the public charge rule are just another example of its agenda to strip people of dignity on the basis of race and economic status alone,” she said. “The Trump administration has continuously tried and failed to enact legislation that would curb legal immigration – despite the fact that the majority of Americans favor more pathways to legal immigration, not fewer. Trump is ignoring the will of the people yet again, circumventing congressional procedure by changing the public charge rule in order to limit legal immigration, signaling that only those with wealth are welcome in the United States.”


A representative of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a South Asian community organization, told indica (Sept.28), “This most definitely impacts the Indian-American community.”


A recent Migration Policy Institute study found that 2.3 million—over half–of 4 million non-citizens with legal status and who arrived in the past five years live in families with incomes below $62,000 annually. Of these, more than half a million (550,000) are Indian-American.


The new rule would also apply a similar “public charge” test to applications for extensions of non-immigrant visas, and changes of non-immigrant status (for example, from a student visa to an employment visa).


Another South Asian organization, Desis for Progress, asserted that the changes have been proposed to punish immigrants.


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