About Us
E Join Our Mailing List

News > Skills Blog

Newly proposed immigration "public charge" rule would harm immigrant workers and US businesses

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Newly proposed immigration

This week, the US Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would make it significantly harder for many immigrants who are here legally to stay in the country. Under this new "public charge" rule, immigration officials could deny green cards or visa changes for individuals who get any of a number of public benefits or are deemed likely to receive benefits in the future. 

NSC opposes this rule, which would hurt our nation's efforts to build a skilled workforce. With record low unemployment, businesses are struggling to fill open positions, particularly for middle-skill jobs. Immigrants, who account for one in six U.S. workers, are essential to closing this skill gap. But the proposed rule would undercut immigrants’ ability to access training for middle-skill jobs.

Although the new rule does not include education and workforce programs in the list of public benefits, it's expected to have a chilling effect as immigrants withdraw from a wide array of publicly funded programs, from community college to adult education, out of confusion and fear. In addition, immigrants in job training programs who rely on key public benefits like SNAP or Medicaid will have to choose between dropping out of benefits programs that provide crucially needed support, or staying in and potentially jeopardizing their immigration status. The new rule would also create challenges for community colleges and other adult education and workforce development providers that would have to quickly build capacity to accurately advise immigrants about this complicated new rule. 

To learn more about the proposed rule, read NSC's analysis below and register for our upcoming October 24 webinar. NSC will also provide template comments next week that organizations may use as a basis for submitting their own comments by December 10, 2018.

NSC’s analysis of this complex, 450-page proposal focuses specifically on issues relevant to skills advocates. For broader analysis, we recommend materials from the National Immigration Law Center and its partners in the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign.

What is the public charge?

Public charge is the standard by which individuals can be denied permanent resident (green card) status or otherwise forbidden from extending or changing their visas if they are determined to be dependent on the government for support, or likely to be dependent in the future. The public charge is a totality of circumstances test, in which federal officials weigh the positive and negative factors in an individual immigrant’s application and determine whether they are at risk of becoming a public charge. The current public charge policy has been in place for decades, and was most recently affirmed in 1999 policy guidance from the federal government.

Relatively few immigrants are currently eligible for cash assistance or related public benefits, in part due to the 1996 welfare-reform law. But the new proposal would also require federal officials to predict whether the immigrant might receive benefits in the future. Given that immigrants who are granted green cards are then eligible to apply for US citizenship, and that US citizens are eligible for a wide range of public benefits, the rule would have sweeping implications. Ultimately, the proposed changes would affect millions of legally authorized immigrants and prospective immigrants.

Understanding the major changes proposed by the administration

DHS is proposing to make significant changes to the existing public charge policy. Among the key changes:

1. More people would be subject to the public charge test. Right now, individuals are subject to the public charge determination when applying for lawful permanent resident (“green card”) status, or when existing green card holders are being readmitted to the US after more than six months outside the country. DHS is now proposing that people would be subject to the public charge test in those cases, and that individuals face a similar test when they apply for or extend any one of a long list of nonimmigrant visas. This also means that the same person might be subject to the public charge test on several occasions, as it is very common for individuals to extend or change their status repeatedly. For example, someone might arrive in the US on a student visa, then later change to an employment visa, and eventually become a permanent resident.

2. More kinds of benefits would be counted as negative factors in the public charge test. Under current policy, only two types of public benefits usage count against immigrants: receiving cash assistance (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Insurance), or receiving long-term institutional care at public expense. DHS is proposing that this list be significantly expanded to include:

    • Medicaid (with limited exceptions for emergency Medicaid and certain school-based disability services for children)
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Medicare Part D financial assistance
    • Subsidized public housing (federal public housing, Section 8 housing vouchers and Section 8 project-based rental assistance)

      DHS is also asking for public comments about whether Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits should be counted as a negative factor. If included, this would consider whether the immigrant applicant had received CHIP him- or herself, not whether their children had done so.

3. The process of calculating public benefits usage would become much more complicated. DHS’s proposal divides the above list into monetizable and non-monetizable benefits – that is, those to which DHS can easily assign a monetary value and those to which it cannot. For any individual immigrant, receiving monetizable benefits that total more than 15 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of one (about $1800) would count as a negative factor in the public charge totality of circumstances test. (This is a substantial change from current guidance, which examines whether a person is receiving cash benefits that form 51 percent or more of their income.)

Similarly, receiving non-monetizable benefits that last for more than 12 out of the preceding 36 months would also count as a negative factor. Additional calculations would apply if an individual was receiving both monetizable and non-monetizable benefits or more than one non-monetizable benefit in a given month.

(Benefits received by family members of the immigrant applicant would not count. However, the size of an immigrant’s household – including people who may not be physically living with but are financially dependent on the immigrant – would still influence many of the calculations for the public charge test.)

4. Factors to be considered in the totality of circumstances assessment would be further codified. While the general list of factors to be considered in the totality of circumstances test is already codified in statute, DHS is proposing to flesh out these factors with substantially more detailed considerations, including a brand-new proposal to consider an immigrant’s credit history and credit score. The proposed considerations would include but not be limited to:

    • Age (between 18 and 61 would be a positive factor; below age 18 or age 62 and over would be a negative factor)
    • Health (a negative factor would be having a health condition that is likely to interfere with the person’s ability to care for him- or herself,  to attend school or work or that is likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization in the future)
    • Family status (i.e., household size)
    • Assets, resources, and financial status (having income below 125 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines is a negative factor; income above 250 percent of FPG is a heavily weighted positive factor; other considerations include the immigrant applicant’s credit history and credit score; whether they have applied for or received a public benefit; received a fee waiver when applying for an immigration document, and more)
    • Education and skills (considerations include recent history of employment; credential attainment at HS diploma or higher level, occupational licensure, English skills, other language skills)
    • Affidavit of support from a person who is sponsoring the immigrant (if required to be filed)

5. The ripple effect of the new rules would be felt far beyond the immigrants who are personally subject to the public charge test. For example, an individual already living in the US who is applying for a green card may have a US citizen spouse; if federal officials deny the green card application because the applicant is at risk of becoming a public charge, the couple may be faced with a difficult decision about whether they can continue their lives together in the United States, or must move abroad or be separated. 

6. A new “public charge bond” process would be implemented to allow individuals to override their negative public charge determination. DHS is proposing a complex new process to allow individuals who are at risk of becoming a public charge to purchase a bond that will enable them to be admitted to the United States. The minimum cost of the bond would be $10,000 plus fees; the intent would be to provide a mechanism for the US government to be reimbursed if the immigrant goes on to use public benefits in the future. Much remains unknown about the bond process, but its existence would add an additional layer of potential financial pressure for immigrant applicants.

Benefits that would NOT count against immigrants

Under the DHS proposal, some public benefits would not be counted against immigrants in the public charge test. These include:

  • Social Security retirement benefits
  • General Medicare benefits (as opposed to the Part D subsidies described above)
  • Worker’s compensation
  • Non-cash benefits that provide education, child development, and employment and job training
  • Education-related benefits
  • Any exclusively local, state, or tribal public benefit that is not cash assistance for income maintenance, institutionalization for long-term care at government expense, or another public benefit program not specifically listed in the regulation
  • Benefits used by persons other than the applicant, including benefits used by their children

Individuals exempt from the public charge test

Some categories of immigrants are not subject to the public charge test.

  • Active duty and reserve US military service members and their families
  • Refugees, people who have been granted asylum, individuals receiving U visas for crime victims or T visas for trafficking victims
  • Select other categories of vulnerable individuals
  • Family members of the immigrant applicant (unless and until they make their own applications for green-card status, visa extensions, or changes of status)

In addition, individuals are not subject to a public charge test when they apply for US citizenship.

Implications for skills advocates

  1. The biggest concern: A chilling effect far beyond the scope of the rule itself.  The new proposal is expected to have a significant chilling effect on immigrant participation in publicly funded adult education and workforce programs. Even though the public charge proposal does not apply to some categories of immigrants (such as refugees), and even though the proposal does not include education and workforce programs, people are nevertheless expected to withdraw from a wide array of publicly programs out of fear and confusion. There is strong evidence that this chilling effect is already occurring. Given the complexity of the new proposal, skills advocates may find it difficult to give a blanket reassurance to worried adult learners and jobseekers, and may see dips in enrollment, participation, and completion.

  2. New rule will create difficult choices for adult learners and jobseekers. While education and training programs themselves are not included in the list of public benefits that would count against immigrant applicants, many participants in training programs depend on other benefits that would be counted against them -- such as SNAP or Medicaid -- to be able to persist and complete their education. As a result, adult learners and jobseekers will be faced with the difficult decision of whether to dis-enroll from health and nutrition programs and jeopardize their ability to complete their training, or to stay enrolled in the programs and potentially jeopardize their immigration status.

  3. End of “bright line” standard will greatly increase demands on service providers. The new proposal would remove a clear, bright-line standard for when an immigrant may be considered a public charge, and replace it with a highly complex, multi-faceted and subjective test. This increased complexity will make it difficult for education and workforce providers to provide straightforward guidance to frontline staff about how to advise participants on whether using a public benefit may jeopardize their immigration status. Higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and state and local agencies will also face the challenge of updating enrollment forms, software programs, and other documentation that currently provides blanket reassurance to participants that enrolling in publicly funded programs will not jeopardize their immigration status, and substituting a much more nuanced and complicated disclaimer. 

  4. Increased confusion about braided funding for workforce and education programs. The public charge test pertains to benefits received by individuals. Funds that are received by institutions – such as community colleges that blend TANF or SNAP dollars with other funds to support an educational program – would not be counted against immigrant participants in those programs. However, the uncertainty created by the new regulations may affect education and workforce program administrators and managers as they seek to clarify the implications of the proposal for their institutions and participants.

National Skills Coalition is extremely concerned about the ripple effects of these proposed changes on education and workforce goals. We urge skills advocates to submit public comments to DHS in advance of the December 10 deadline. Template comments from NSC will be available early next week.  



Posted In: Immigration

Utah and Idaho explore immigrant career pathways; new fact sheets released

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Utah and Idaho explore immigrant career pathways; new fact sheets released

Note: The Idaho and Utah fact sheets linked below are being released in conjunction with Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. See also NSC’s 2016 fact sheet, Adult Education: A Crucial Foundation for Middle-Skill Jobs.

National Skills Coalition Director of Upskilling Policy Amanda Bergson-Shilcock recently traveled to Boise, ID, and Salt Lake City, UT for skills policy events with stakeholders in both cities. The focus: How immigrant advocates can collaborate with adult education and workforce officials to ensure that skills policies provide effective career pathways for workers at all skill levels.

Immigrant populations have more than doubled in both Idaho and Utah in recent years, demonstrating the growing role that immigrant workers can play in helping the states respond to local industries’ talent needs. The issue is of particular importance given the very low unemployment rates in both states.

Two new fact sheets were released in conjunction with the events. Both are part of NSC’s ongoing series on immigrants and middle-skill jobs:

Idaho: Connecting the Dots between Refugee Youth and State Postsecondary Goals

Idaho is home to approximately 98,000 immigrants, who comprise almost 6 percent of state residents. The state has recently set a goal for postsecondary attainment, aiming to increase the percentage of Idaho residents ages 25-34 with a college degree or certificate to 60 percent by 2025. Ensuring that state workforce and education policies are inclusive of immigrant and refugee youth will be important in helping the state meet its ambitious attainment goal.

In Boise, Amanda led two workshops hosted by the nonprofit Neighbors United. The first focused on career pathways for refugee and immigrant jobseekers. The second examined education and workforce issues facing refugee and immigrant young adults in particular. Stakeholders at both workshops included state officials, higher education partners, nonprofit service providers, and refugee youth themselves.

Also participating in the event were staff from the nonprofit Global Talent Idaho. The nonprofit’s collaboration with state refugee and labor department officials was spotlighted in NSC’s recent brief At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy: A Roadmap to Smart Policies for State and Local Leaders.

Utah: A Variety of New Efforts to Boost Skills and Credential Attainment

Immigrants and refugees represent approximately 8 percent of Utah’s population, or 252,000 people. Immigrants in the state are dramatically more likely to be of working age: a full 85 percent are between the ages of 18-64, compared to just 57 percent of native-born residents. Utah immigrants also have a substantially higher labor force participation rate: 71 percent of adult immigrants are in the labor force, compared to 67 percent of native-born adults.

Utah has also established an aspirational goal for postsecondary attainment: By 2020, the state aims to increase the percentage of Utahns between 25-64 years old with a postsecondary degree to 66 percent. Given the relative youth of the state’s foreign-born population, investing in the skills of immigrants and refugees will be an important element of helping the state reach its goal. (Utah is also one of three states selected to participate in a new Task Force on Closing Postsecondary Attainment Gaps, led by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.)

In Salt Lake City, Amanda led two discussions in collaboration with the nonprofit One Refugee. The first focused on policies and programs that support career pathways for young adult refugees and immigrants. The second explored strategies for measuring refugee integration using education and workforce data.

Stakeholders participating in the discussions included state and local workforce officials, nonprofit service providers, and faith community leaders. The events were hosted by OC Tanner, a corporate leader that supports refugee integration through employment. 

Separately, Amanda also met with Utah state legislators to brief them on occupational licensing and career pathway issues for immigrants and refugees in the state. Utah is participating in a national initiative on occupational licensing led by the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, and Council of State Governments.

In addition, both Salt Lake City and Boise, along with partners in Twin Falls, ID, were selected last year to participate in the Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP), a national technical assistance initiative led by the nonprofit WES Global Talent Bridge. National Skills Coalition served as a technical assistance provider for the SIIP project, and Amanda’s recent trip was conducted as part of the SIIP project.

Posted In: Immigration, Idaho, Utah
Senators introduce bipartisan “National Workforce Development Month” resolution

On September 18th, Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Hatch (R-UT), Baldwin (D-WI) and Enzi (R-WY) introduced a bipartisan Senate Resolution to designate September as “National Workforce Development Month.”

The resolution recognizes the importance of federal investment in workforce development programming that provides training, education and upskilling opportunities for workers and meets business demands. It also notes the “crucial role in supporting workers and growing the economy” workforce development programming plays.

Earlier this year, the Council of Economic Advisors released a report in part highlighting that the U.S. invests far less in workforce development programing than other developed countries. Over the past two decades, investments in these programs have decreased dramatically. Funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) has decreased by 40%, for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by 32% and those in Adult Basic Education has decreased by 20%. In the past two years, Congress has slowly begun to reverse this trend and a package passed by the Senate just this week would include a $70 million and $25 million increase in funding for states for CTE and ABE, respectively. This same package would level fund most programming under WIOA, however, and the small increases to CTE and ABE do little to rectify decades of stagnant and declining funding for programs on which communities and businesses across the country rely.

This Senate resolution makes an important statement about the bipartisan support workforce development programming has among policy makers and is a good first step to adequately supporting the programming the resolution highlights.

In recognition of Workforce Development Month and in efforts to further engage policy makers on the importance of federal investments in vital workforce and education programming, the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce will host a Congressional Briefing on Tuesday, September 25th, highlighting the importance of federal funding to support state’s and local areas’ capacity to meet worker skill needs and business demand, find the full invitation here.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce

Senate advances FY2019 Labor-HHS spending bill

  ·   By Katie Spiker,
Senate advances FY2019 Labor-HHS spending bill

*On September 26th, the House passed legislation that included the FY2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies bill. The President is expected to sign the package this week, an on time passage for the Labor-HHS bill for the first time in more than 20 years. In addition to funding for the Labor-HHS and Defense bills, it also includes a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government at current year levels for portions not covered by this package or a separate minibus passed earlier this fall. The CR will last through December 7th, and the House is expected to adjourn after this week through midterm elections.


Earlier today the Senate advanced the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) spending bill. The bill reflects an agreement reached last week between conferees in both the House and the Senate and would largely level fund workforce programming under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) with increased funding levels for both Career and Technical Education and Adult Education state grants.

The bill tracks closely to the bipartisan spending package the Senate passed in August, which provides $200 million higher than the final FY 2018 Labor-HHS spending levels. With this increased allocation, the final agreement includes a $15 million increase in funding for apprenticeship grants, to $160 million for FY 2019, and small increases to both the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker and Native American national programs. The bill also includes an almost $4 million cut to Employment Service grants to states.

Career and Technical Education state grants will receive $70 million more than in FY 2018, to $1.26 billion. This increase is consistent with the House’s proposed increase in their Labor-HHS bill and reflects broad bipartisan support for the newly reauthorized Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, signed in to law this summer. Adult Education and Family Literacy state grants also increased by $25 million over FY2018 levels to nearly $642 million in FY 2019. In their report language, conferees expressed concern about the administration’s proposed reorganization of the Office of English Language Acquisition and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE).

The bill also increased the maximum Pell award for FY 2019 by $100 to $6,195.

The House is expected to pass the bill next week upon return from recess, allowing the President to sign the bill into law prior to September 30th, the end of FY 2018. If this happens, it will be the first time in more than twenty years Congress has completed the Labor-HHS bill on time.

NSC applauds appropriators for their work in advancing this important bill efficiently and for increases to important programs that will help states and local areas train workers to meet business demand. Through the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce, NSC looks forward to working with appropriators to continue the trend of investment in vital workforce and education programming.


FY 2018 Omnibus

FY 2019 Labor-HHS Conference Report

Change from FY 2018-2019

Department of Labor

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I – State Formula Grants




WIOA Adult




WIOA Dislocated Worker




WIOA Youth




Wagner-Peyser Employment Service Grants



- $3,361,000

Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants




Apprenticeship Grants




DW National Reserve




Native American Programs




Ex-Offender Activities




Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers








Senior Community Service Employment Program








Department of Education

Career and Technical Education State Grants




Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants




Posted In: Federal Funding

How advocates can advance immigrant workforce issues at the state and local level

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
How advocates can advance immigrant workforce issues at the state and local level

As Welcoming Week (September 14-23) prepares to kick off, with hundreds of events scheduled around the country, National Skills Coalition is releasing a new report that gives state and local advocates fresh ideas for advancing policies to improve immigrant access to workforce and adult education services. At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy: A Roadmap to Smart Policies for State and Local Leaders focuses on the fast-growing phenomenon of state Offices of New Americans and city Offices of Immigrant Affairs, and their intersection with public workforce and education agencies.

The report gives advocates practical examples of how state and local officials have invested in immigrant workers’ skills through programs and policies to date, and offers policy recommendations for how advocates can further advance immigrant workforce issues in their own communities. The report is relevant both for states and localities that have immigrant affairs offices, and those that do not.

Six states and 30 cities now have immigrant affairs offices, while more than 90 communities have launched “welcoming” initiatives, some of which are housed within municipal government. Skills issues are a notable and growing focus for many of these offices, both in response to constituent requests (e.g., for more English classes) and as a result of the overall direction and agenda set by the governor or mayor when establishing the office. Similarly, workforce issues are also on the radar screen for many local welcoming initiatives.

At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy includes select examples of policies advanced by immigrant affairs offices to support the education and workforce goals of state residents, and provides recommendations for those offices to further expand their efforts.

The report also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that state policymakers capitalize on immigrant affairs offices’ expertise as they design and meet overall workforce goals, such as the postsecondary attainment goals that 40 states have established. (National Skills Coalition previously published 10 state-specific fact sheets on the importance of investing in immigrant skill-building to meet the demand for middle-skill workers and help states meet their credential attainment goals. Links to each are available on the immigration page of NSC’s website.)

Among the recommendations included in the At the Intersection report:

  • For established offices of immigrant affairs: 1) designing formal mechanisms for immigrant-affairs offices to participate in workforce and education policy decision making; 2) exploring how non-skills issues can be a gateway to foster connections with other public agencies; 3) capitalizing on the convening power of public agencies; and more.
  • For newly created offices of immigrant affairs: 1) Consider housing the office within a labor, education, or economic development agency; 2) build inclusion of US-born community members in from the beginning; 3) rather than fighting for a programmatic budget, fight for a seat at the table and ability to be a creative policy entrepreneur; and more.
  • For workforce and education agencies: 1) “Cross-fertilize” business leaders’ input on immigration and skills policy goals; 2) incorporate an immigrant lens into state and local workforce data policy; 3) ensure that immigrant-owned businesses are specifically included in education and workforce policy efforts; and more.

View the complete recommendations and an array of examples from Maryland to Michigan and beyond in the full At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy report.

Posted In: Immigration, Adult Basic Education