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A number of colleges and higher education groups have registered their opposition to a proposed rule by the Trump administration that would redefine how the government determines an immigrant or nonimmigrant visitor is likely to become a “public charge” and thus ineligible for a green card or other change of immigration status.

Current regulations dating to 1999 hold that an immigrant can be deemed inadmissible or ineligible for a change in immigration status if they are determined to be "likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence." Whereas the government has previously taken into account the acceptance of cash benefits in determining whether an immigrant is likely to be a "public charge," the proposed rule would consider any use of a wider range of noncash public benefits -- including use of food stamps, nonemergency Medicaid and public housing assistance -- as “heavily weighed negative factors” in making these determinations.

Further, the proposed rule identifies a range of other factors beyond the current or past use of public benefits for the government to consider in determining whether an immigrant is likely to become a public charge in the future, including education level, English proficiency, medical conditions or disabilities, credit history and income level. Under the proposed rule, having a household income of 250 percent or more of the federal poverty level -- which translates to $30,350 for an individual or $62,750 for a family of four -- would be considered a “heavily weighed positive factor" in the immigrant’s favor.

The Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education submitted a joint comment on the proposed rule. Comments closed Monday.

“As educators and leaders of higher education institutions and organizations, we know that when students and their families are unable to meet core living and housing needs or face higher costs, the students are less likely to pursue and continue with their educational and career pathways,” the groups said. “While Pell Grants and other non-cash benefits that provide education, child development, employment, and job training are not included in the specified public benefits, we believe the proposed regulations will have damaging consequences, affecting students, families, and campuses across the nation. We are very concerned that many eligible immigrant students may mistakenly avoid applying for Pell or other financial aid and will be unable to afford higher education.”

The two groups also raised concerns about the effects on international students and exchange scholars who seek to extend or adjust their immigration status.

"For nonimmigrants, including F-1 students, J-1 exchange visitors, H-1B specialty workers, or their dependents, the public charge test would be applied when they apply to extend or adjust their nonimmigrant status," they wrote. "This rule would create additional tests and barriers for these individuals. Individuals would be subject to the public charge test each time they extend or change their status. For example, an international student with F-1 status applying for an employment status would be subject to the public charge test. The increased uncertainty imposed by the new regulations is likely to deter even well-qualified and affluent international students from attempting to study in the U.S., as the ability to gain U.S. workplace experience during an optional practical training period is often a key motivation for enrolling in an American college."

Presidents from a variety of types of colleges -- ranging from Southern New Hampshire University to the University of California -- have submitted comments opposing the proposed rule. A group of 10 presidents in the Massachusetts Community College System also submitted a joint letter opposing it.

Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the rule is intended to implement an existing law requiring immigrants to be financially self-sufficient. “Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” she said in a statement issued at the time the proposed rule was released. “This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”