Trump, Visas, and Green Cards
Donald Trump campaigned on promises to restrict immigration to the United States. His administration is now acting on those promises, and some of the starkest changes his administration has implemented apply to green cards.
The Trump administration has made getting a green card considerably more difficult and even seems to be interested in removing the assurances against deportation a green card used to bring.
Below we’ll detail the recent changes the administration has made and what they mean for those applying for or who already have permanent residency status.
What is a Green Card
To say that someone “has a green card” is an informal way of saying that they are a lawful permanent resident of the United States. When a foreign national achieves this status, they are issued a permanent resident card by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), authorizing them to live and work permanently in the U.S.
Though the permanent resident card is still called a green card, it is not in fact green. Over the years, the card has been various shades of pale blue, pink or yellow, and features anti-counterfeiting measures such as holographic images or laser-engraved fingerprints. The name comes from the very first permanent resident card, issued in the years just after World War 2, which was, in fact, green.
Having a green card gives the bearer some, but not all, of the rights enjoyed by US citizens. Green card holders can travel around the country as they choose and are eligible for the same retirement and tax benefits, Social Security, insurance coverage, and research or education grants as U.S. citizens. They can apply for loans to finance big-ticket items like a house or a car. They can also sponsor certain family members for green cards of their own.
Possessing a green card is also the first step toward citizenship. After five years of being a permanent resident, green card holders can apply for naturalization and becomes citizens of the US.
The biggest differences between green card holders and naturalized citizens are that green card holders cannot run for elected office, vote in federal elections, or serve on a jury. The green card must also be renewed or replaced every 10 years.
It’s Only Getting Harder to Get a Green Card Under Trump
The usual process for getting a green card involves filing a petition for an Adjustment of Status. This allows someone who holds a visa to live and work in the US, but is not yet a permanent resident, to petition for a green card without leaving the country.
However, the Trump administration is making the process of transitioning from a visa to a green card harder and harder. In August 2017, the administration announced new guidelines that will require more green card applicants to be interviewed before being approved. Green card applications are technically required to be interviewed under the law. In practice, however, the interview requirement has usually been waived except for a few categories of applicants deemed high-risk. For instance, most individuals applying for green cards through their employers are not interviewed, especially if they could demonstrate extraordinary abilities and their employer had sponsored their work visa.
Now, applicants who are applying for green cards based on their employment, or who are applying for relatives with refugee or asylum status, may be subject to interviews. USCIS has also stated that they may plan to incrementally increase the number of interviews, requiring interviews for more and more categories of applicants.
This new policy means that more and more applicants will be interviewed, slowing down a process which could already take several years.
Immigration Reform News: Green Cards Are No Longer an Insurance Policy
Even those who do successfully complete the process and qualify for a green card are no longer immune to deportation. Permanent residency used to be considered just that—permanent, with deportations procedures very rarely invoked. New guidelines implemented by the Trump administration, however, will mean those individuals with green cards are no longer safe from deportation.
At the end of June 2018, USCIS also implemented new guidelines which increased the likelihood that even green card holders may be subject to deportation. The new guidelines state that any immigrants who abuse “any program related to the reception of public benefits” will be summoned to appear before an immigration court. Additionally, individuals could be subject to deportation if USCIS finds “fraud or willful misrepresentation” of “any official matter or application before another government agency.”
In practical terms, this means increased scrutiny of immigrants who already possess a green card. Additionally, the proposal by the Department of Homeland Security means that using public benefits, such as Medicaid or SNAP programs, could harm documented immigrants’ chances of receiving a green card. The DHS proposal suggests that applications for green cards could be denied if the evidence is uncovered of the applicant using these public benefits before they are legally allowed to do so. This would be a reversal of previous regulations, which currently ban officials from considering whether applicants receive public benefits.
Finally, the USCIS has started to look harder at even permanent residents who apply for citizenship. A new policy memorandum suggests that they will begin deportation procedures on permanent residents if they have been convicted of aggravated felonies or other “deportable offenses”, even after they have obtained their legal permanent residence status.
Now that Donald Trump is in office, his administration has started to clamp down on the green card process and has even started allowing immigrants with a green card to be deported. With the state of immigration policy in such a state of flux, it’s unclear what the processes for and protections of legal immigration will look like in the future. Given these new challenges, if you are considering starting an application or in the process of applying for permanent residency or citizenship, it is important to stay up-to-date with these kinds of changes to immigration policy. Check back here for more updates as they become available.