INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Congress recently changed language that could create challenges for immigrants seeking citizenship, and experts said the wording could also contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
The “public charge” rule has been around for a long time. The government uses it to assess if a person seeking permanent residency will need to use public benefits and assistance.
In February just before the pandemic hit, new forms of public assistance and education requirements were added. Low-wage jobs are some of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Research shows a large percentage of the immigrants who call Indiana home work in service industry jobs.
Amy Shackelford with the Immigrant Welcome Center said, “Our data indicates that 58% of the immigrants we work with have experienced the loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Immigrants who seek help during the COVID-19 pandemic could see a risk to their path to citizenship under the “public charge” rule.
“It’s a strategy that the government uses in assessing if they believe an immigrant who is applying for a legal permanent residency will be deemed a ‘public charge,’ meaning that they will be utilizing public benefits and public assistance,” Shackelford said.
Not only are some immigrants concerned about their path to citizenship, but research through the Indiana University Public Policy Institute has found that immigrants may be at greater risk for COVID-19 because their jobs are often ones on the front lines that make social distancing tough.
“People are really afraid to go to the public hospitals to get tested and plus a lot of low-income, immigrant families they can’t afford medical bills,” said Elle Yang, a researcher with the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.
To address immigrants’ needs, some federal government recommendations include providing medical services to immigrants and financial support for immigrant service organizations, and halt the “public charge” rule.
The Immigrant Welcome Center is partnering with other agencies to provide financial relief to immigrants who may need it as a result of the pandemic.