March 15, 2020

Federal Immigration authorities this week announced medical care sought because of the coronavirus COVID-19 would not count against those seeking permanent residency in the United States.

“USCIS encourages all those, including aliens, with symptoms that resemble Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (fever, cough, shortness of breath) to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services,” the agency wrote in a statement issued March 13. “Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis."  

The allowance for COVID19-related medical care is an exception to the more restrictive Public Charge rules, which went into effect Feb. 24. 

Public Charge is an assessment made by immigration officials on whether people entering the country or seeking a visa or green card are likely to rely on public benefits in the future. Historically, the rule only weighed two kinds of public assistance — cash assistance and long-term care.

The broader Public Charge rule makes low-income immigrants potentially ineligible for permanent residency or citizenship if they use some public services such as food stamps, Social Security benefits or Medicaid for people who are over 21 and not pregnant. 

The Administration finalized changes to that rule last August, adding additional benefit to the list that could weight against an applicant for entry or residency to include:

  • Medicaid

  • the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP

  • Housing assistance including public housing, Section 8 vouchers and rental assistance

Oregon and more than a dozen other states to file lawsuits to stop the changes. And while the outcome of those suits are still undecided, the policy was allowed to go into effect.

Many immigrants are not subject to the rule, including refugees and asylees, naturalized citizens, and people who already have green cards and are applying for citizenship.

 There are also many programs unaffected by the change, including:

  • Medicaid for people under 21 and for pregnant women, including 60 days after giving birth.

  • Health care services based in schools

  • Oregon’s Cover All Kids Program

  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP

“We want everyone to feel safe seeking care for COVID-19 if they have severe symptoms,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, “especially if they are older adults or have underlying conditions.”