State Department memo reveals only .0033 percent of visa applications denied due to dependency risk in 2011

Caroline May | Reporter

A February State Department memo reveals that from 2001 to 2011, only 0.02 percent of all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications were denied because the potential entrants risked becoming “public charges,” or individuals who are primarily reliant on welfare for subsistence.

For 2011 alone, that figure stood at just 0.0033 percent.

The information came in a letter obtained by The Daily Caller and penned by Thomas B. Gibbons, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, in response to a Sept. 25 oversight request from Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch and Pat Roberts about the enforcement of Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The law bars individuals who “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status … [are] likely at any time to become a public charge” from entry into the United States.

According to the data, contained in the letter, the total number of immigrant visas processed from 2001-2011 was 85,193,456. Of those, just 13,115 were denied on public charge grounds, or 0.015 percent. The number of nonimmigrant (or those requesting temporary entry) visa applications processed from 2001-2011 was 5,831,603. Of those, 125,019 were denied due to the public charge statute, or 2.14 percent.

In total, 0.15 percent of all immigrant and nonimmigrant visas were denied on the basis of becoming a public charge from 2001 to 2011. Despite the initial refusals, however, thousands were able to later overcome their public charge findings — meaning that over those 10 years, just 0.02 percent of all applications were denied on public charge grounds.

In 2011, the most recent year for which data were provided, the percentage was even smaller. In 2011, the percentage of all visa applications (both immigrant and nonimmigrant), minus those that were able to overcome their initial public charge findings, was 0.0033 percent.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member on the Senate budget committee and an advocate for enforcement of current immigration law, slammed the State Department for the letter’s revelations.

“The data just provided by the State Department, like that recently provided by the Department of Homeland Security, dramatically confirms that federal public charge law is not being enforced,” he said in a statement. “This helps explain a study showing that 36 percent of immigrant-headed households receive at least one major welfare program, adding billions to their cost.”

When making public charge determinations, the government only looks at whether new entrants are likely to become dependent on two of the 80 federal welfare programs available to those in need — Supplemental Social Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Four senators have pressed the federal government for an explanation of that policy, as well.

Earlier this month, DHS revealed it did not have data on immigrants who become public charges after entering the country. (RELATED: Homeland Security admits inadequate recordkeeping)

In a response letter to the same four aforementioned Republicans, DHS explained that while it does not keep track of immigrants on public charge grounds, a case-by-case review of fiscal year 2012 data by showed that the department brought up just one case of an immigrant allegedly becoming a public charge after gaining entry to the country. That charge was later withdrawn.

According to Sessions, a central tenet of American immigration policy is that those who desire to come into the country must be able to become financially independent.

“[T]he data provided leaves no doubt: this principle is no longer being applied—despite a firm and unambiguous legal requirement,” he added. “For those concerned about the size of government and the cost to taxpayers, this will be a major concern when addressing any immigration reform effort. … When basic principles and laws like this are ignored, it is no wonder the American people doubt any promises of future enforcement.”

The State Department noted that applications that were refused during one fiscal year could overcome the finding in a subsequent year.

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