Immigrants Seeking Naturalization Won’t Be Penalized For Coronavirus Test

REUTERS/Mike Blake

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Foreign nationals who apply for U.S. permanent status won’t be penalized if they get tested for coronavirus, the government announced.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made clear that applicants for U.S. permanent status — such as migrants seeking a green card — will not be penalized under the newly implemented “public charge” rule if they seek testing for COVID-19. The agency implored anyone displaying symptoms of the virus to get themselves tested.

The public charge rule, recently pushed by the Trump administration, makes it harder for migrants who have used government benefits to obtain permanent residency. The agency’s announcement assuages concerns among the immigrant community, many of whom might have the virus.

“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 said in a statement released on its website.

Health care worker tests people at a drive-thru testing station run by the state health department, for people who suspect they have novel coronavirus, in Denver

Health care worker tests people at a drive-thru testing station run by the state health department, for people who suspect they have novel coronavirus, in Denver, Colorado, U.S. March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

“Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis,” it continued.

The Trump administration first rolled out the public charge rule in August 2019. Under the plan, a USCIS officer reviewing an applicant’s case will look at their use of public benefits over a 12-month period within any given 36-month period during their time in the United States.

Typical government benefits that are considered include food stamps, Section 8 and other housing benefits, Medicaid, cash assistance and other programs.

The plan was met with derision among progressive and immigrant-rights groups, and quickly challenged in court. A U.S. district judge issued a pair of nationwide injunctions against the public charge rule in October 2019, but the Supreme Court ultimately lifted the injunctions in January. (RELATED: Joe Biden Pledges To Undo Trump’s Public Charge Rule As Part Of Coronavirus Action Plan)

The public charge rule went into effect in late February. Nevertheless, USCIS has made clear that COVID-19 testing has nothing to do with the rule’s guidelines.

“The Public Charge rule does not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19. In addition, the rule does not restrict access to vaccines for children or adults to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases,” the agency’s statement continued.

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