Immigrants will be denied visas if they can't pay for health care under new Trump rule

The effort is part of larger policy that seeks to make it more difficult for low-income immigrants to stay in the U.S.
Hundreds of illegal immigrants line up in New York in 2001 to apply for green cards before having to leave the country.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file
By Dennis Romero

President Donald Trump announced Friday that legal immigrants will be denied visas unless they can prove they have health insurance or the means to cover medical costs.

The rule, which takes effect Nov. 3, is part of a broader effort within the administration that seeks to make it more difficult for low-income legal immigrants who receive food stamps or other taxpayer-funded assistance to stay in the country.

Ken Cuccinelli, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced the broader policy in August, explaining that immigrants who could become a "public charge" would be rejected.

He said he interpreted the inscription on the Statue of Liberty — "Give me your tired, your poor" — to mean, "We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet."

Immigrant rights advocates have filed multiple lawsuits against the administration over the broader policy, which could impact 400,000 legal permanent resident applicants a year.

Immigration attorney Elizabeth Jamae of San Francisco's Pearl Law Group said the health care rule is on more solid legal ground and could possibly withstand challenges.

"There’s very little case law out there but what does exist does give the president broad authority," she said.

A proclamation signed by Trump says the rule applies to immigrants who "financially burden the United States healthcare system unless the alien will be covered by approved health insurance ... or unless the alien possesses the financial resources to pay for reasonably foreseeable medical costs."

It claims that "data show that lawful immigrants are about three times more likely than United States citizens to lack health insurance."

The new regulation does not specify what financial resources would suffice. Cuccinelli said in August that immigrants could surmount the "public charge" rule by paying a public bond of $8,100.

The healthcare requirement does not apply to unaccompanied children, children of citizens, asylum seekers and certain classes of visas, such as returning resident visas, according to the proclamation.

"I don’t necessarily think this will affect your average immigrant coming to work at a tech company," Jamae said. "It will affect low-income immigrants."

Grace Pai, director of the family immigration advocacy group Value Our Families said in a statement that the rule is "is completely opposite to our nation’s values."

"The Trump administration’s proclamation is their latest attempt to only allow the wealthy few to immigrate to the United States," she said. "Value Our Families partners from across the nation stand against Trump’s attempt to discriminate against families who are struggling to make ends meet."

Dennis Romero

Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.

Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner and Suzanne Gamboa contributed.