Immigrants will be required to show credit scores, or fulfill other financial criteria, if they want to become U.S. citizens
The Trump administration said Monday it will make it more difficult for immigrants who rely on food stamps or Medicaid to become U.S. citizens.
Acting Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said in a press briefing: “We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” he said. “That’s a core principle of the American Dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”
Under this policy, intended to determine who is considered ‘admissible’ to the U.S., immigrants would have to provide evidence of their financial status.
Under this policy, intended to determine who is considered “admissible” to the country, immigrants would have to provide evidence of their financial status. It’s based on the risk of an immigrant becoming what is loosely defined by the government as a “public charge,” meaning someone who is primarily dependent on government assistance.
This includes applications for public benefits in the U.S., proof of private health insurance to cover certain medical conditions, and their credit histories and credit scores.
Credit reports and scores can reveal information about a person’s bill payment history, current debt, work and residence history, lawsuits or arrests and bankruptcies in the U.S., as well as whether or not that person is “self-sufficient,” according to the proposal.
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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would consider a “good” credit score to be “a positive factor as it demonstrates an applicant may be able to support him or herself and any dependents assuming all other financial records are sufficient.”
‘I grew up on WIC [women, infants and children benefits] and public housing, I don’t know what my parents would have done without it.’
The policy defines a “good” credit report as “generally near or slightly above the average of U.S. consumers.” (FICO scores range between 300 and 850, and lenders generally consider one between 670 and 739 to be “good.”)
Some say the policy will and, in some cases, has discouraged some immigrants from seeking public aid. “Allowing an immigration officer to pull your FICO FICO, -1.99% before a final decision will take us bad places. Quickly,” said Matt Cameron, an immigration law attorney at Cameron Law Offices in Boston. He said many low-income families, especially first-generation immigrants, do need help with food.
Immigrants may decide against receiving “women, infants and children” or WIC benefits to avoid trouble with immigration agents, he said. “I grew up on WIC and public housing, I don’t know what my parents would have done without it,” he said. “To make immigrants choose a green card in the future or take care of their kids right now is really cruel.”
‘We have had too lenient a definition of public charge since the 1990s. They needed to update the rules.’
Others say the proposal is long overdue. “We have had too lenient a definition of public charge since the 1990s,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that favors lower immigration numbers. “They needed to update the rules.”
Credit histories and scores won’t be the only factor in an immigration agent’s judgment of immigrants’ applications, and would be an objective way to demonstrate good financial standing, she said. “There’s nothing political about it,” Vaughan added.
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Immigration law never required such substantial proof of financial status before, said Doug Rand, co-founder and president of Boundless, an immigration assistance firm. Immigrants have a financial sponsor who vouches for them that they will be self-sufficient. They must also show that they’re earning enough money to be above 125% of the poverty line (for a family of three, that would be $ 25,975, according to the Department of Health and Human Services).
Many immigrants have no credit scores, and must build their credit history from scratch, which takes 3 to 6 months, according to credit company Experian.
Rand, who also worked for the Obama administration, said focusing on credit-card debt wouldn’t properly depict an individual’s entire financial situation. The best case scenario is a complex system of paperwork and case rulings for agents, employers and employees, he said. “The worst case is rejecting people for seemingly innocent things, like having a high credit-card balance,” he added.
Many immigrants have no credit scores, and must build their credit history from scratch, which takes 3 to 6 months, according to credit company Experian EXPGY, +0.46%. To get started, people need to have at least one credit account in their name, which may only be possible through a lender offering a secured account or a family or friend co-signing a loan. Alternatively, they could use a prepaid debit card that reports activity to the credit agencies.
If no report or score is available, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may consider immigrants in good standing if they can show little to no debt or a history of paying bills on time.
Only immigrants with “lawful permanent resident status” who have lived in the U.S. as a legal resident for five years can participate in certain programs, according to the National Immigration Forum.
The Department of Homeland Security would make exceptions in certain situations that would warrant extended time on public assistance when, for example, someone is unemployed and finishing a college education.
(This story was updated on Aug. 12, 2019.)