Some wonder how the new public charge rule impacts the Coronavirus outbreak. Will I fail to meet the public charge requirement if I seek medical assistance for Coronavirus?
It is feared that foreigners who are applying for immigration benefits or those who are in the U.S. illegally will not seek out medical assistance or testing in the event of sickness because they are not supposed to receive public benefits. This fear leads to further spreading of the COVID-19 virus. Even U.S. citizens family members who are trying to help foreigners become legal can come under scrutiny if they receive public medical benefits.
The new immigration policy looks at the history of welfare benefits received by a foreigner and also by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident: I-944 Declaration of Self Sufficiency and the Public Charge Rule. Receiving medical benefits impacts whether a foreigner is likely to become a “public charge” in the future.
Two major schools of thought have appeared on how changes to immigration policy will affect and worsen the already growing epidemic.
The Fear of Public Charge
While the new Public Charge rule specifically states that it will not include certain Medicaid benefits, such as emergency medical assistance, in its evaluation of an applicant, it begs the question: “What is an emergency?” The USCIS fact sheet doesn’t elaborate on this question. The Public Charge creates a new standard for people seeking citizenship. The policy is still new, so there is no way to tell how it will affect people seeking green cards. The Department of Homeland Security has stated:
“The public charge rule takes into account the totality of circumstances and no one aspect of an individual’s situation would deem them ineligible for change in status. Nowhere in the rule does it say an immigrant will be denied a change in status if they seek medical care.”
Given that the public charge rule looks at a wide range of circumstances, assets, and benefits, one can imagine how this new policy would discourage vulnerable populations from seeking medical attention. Furthermore, there has been a public outcry to delay the rule until the Coronavirus is contained.
The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a growing health crisis that is spreading rapidly all over the world. Health officials are urging people who believe they are sick to seek medical attention. However, this new focus on receipt of welfare benefits could influence whether or not people actually seek medical attention. The fear of seeking out medical attention could amplify the already growing issue around containing the Coronavirus.
Fear of Detainment
Many immigrants are afraid to seek medical attention not simply because of the public charge rule. The bolster in immigration enforcement and policy has made interaction with government-affiliated institutions (public hospitals) a dangerous place. Fear of detainment deters people from seeking treatment for a potentially life-threatening disease. Foreigners in lawful status might fear the detainment of their unlawful family members. In addition, it might deter people from getting tested when they believe they have been exposed. In turn, this threatens all populations, not just immigrant communities. Coronavirus is spreading rapidly, and people must be able to seek medical attention if they need it.
Everyone in the U.S. should follow the law and be legal. But, what do you do with those who have not yet gained that legal status? They can spread diseases if discouraged from obtaining medical relief. Also, for those who are applying to become legal, the new “public charge” rule favors wealthy individuals and deters those with less means. The prospect of obtaining proper medical care stands in the way of legitimate efforts at becoming legal.
The tightening of immigration policies could have a serious effect on whether foreigners seek medical attention. However, this has an effect on all people, even for those who are in lawful status.