NCL Blog

NCL Comment on Proposed Changes to Public Charge Rule

NCL Comment on Proposed Changes to Public Charge Rule

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed a new rule for determining adult immigrants’ eligibility for green cards and changes in visa status. The proposed rule hinges on whether the immigrant is or may become dependent on public support:

Aliens who seek adjustment of status or a visa, or who are applicants for admission, must establish that they are not likely at any time to become a public charge, unless Congress has expressly exempted them from this ground of inadmissibility or has otherwise permitted them to seek a waiver of inadmissibility. Moreover, DHS proposes to require all aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule. (

The National Skills Coalition explains public charge succinctly:

Public charge is the standard by which individuals can be denied permanent resident (green card) status or otherwise forbidden from extending or changing their visas if they are determined to be dependent on the government for support, or likely to be dependent in the future. The public charge is a totality of circumstances test, in which federal officials weigh the positive and negative factors in an individual immigrant’s application and determine whether they are at risk of becoming a public charge. The current public charge policy has been in place for decades, and was most recently affirmed in 1999 policy guidance from the federal government.

Relatively few immigrants are currently eligible for cash assistance or related public benefits, in part due to the 1996 welfare-reform law. But the new proposal would also require federal officials to predict whether the immigrant might receive benefits in the future. Given that immigrants who are granted green cards are then eligible to apply for US citizenship, and that US citizens are eligible for a wide range of public benefits, the rule would have sweeping implications. Ultimately, the proposed changes would affect millions of legally authorized immigrants and prospective immigrants. (

The NCL opposes the proposed rule in its entirety and has submitted a comment outlining its reasoning to DHS (see below). The comment period is open through December 10. We encourage all who work with adult immigrants to review the analysis provided by the National Skills Coalition and to submit comments from their own knowledge and experience. Feel free to use the text of the NCL’s comment as needed and appropriate.


Text of the NCL comment:

Samantha Deshommes, Chief, Regulatory Coordination Division

Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Department of Homeland Security

20 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20529-2140

Re: DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012

Dear Ms. Deshommes

I write on behalf of the National Coalition for Literacy regarding the proposed changes to federal policy on the public charge as outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking referenced above. The Coalition opposes the proposed changes because they will have an adverse effect on adult immigrants’ ability to become and remain valuable contributors to U.S. economic and societal strength.

The NCL is a coalition of leading national, regional, and local organizations dedicated to advancing adult education, family literacy, and English language acquisition in the United States. A number of our member organizations and affiliates are submitting comments related to their specific constituencies; the comments provided here address the overall potential effects of the proposed changes. Our concerns fall into three categories: potential obstacles to adult immigrants’ participation in education and training; potential challenges for adult education and workforce training providers; and potential issues for state and local adult education systems.

Potential Obstacles to Adult Immigrants’ Participation in Education and Training

  • The new rule could force immigrants who are adult learners and jobseekers to choose between their health and their education. While education and training programs themselves are not included in the list of public benefits that would count against immigrant applicants seeking green cards or changes in visa status, many participants in training programs depend on other benefits that would be counted against them—such as the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) or Medicaid—to be able to persist and complete their education. As a result, immigrants who are adult learners and jobseekers could be faced with the difficult decision of whether to dis-enroll from health and nutrition programs and jeopardize their ability to complete their training, or to stay enrolled in the programs and potentially jeopardize their immigration status.
  • The new rule would undermine immigrant workers’ ability to upskill for in-demand occupations. The overwhelming majority of jobs in the U.S. economy today require some postsecondary education; an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that 84 percent of jobs today require education and skills beyond the high school level.[1] The U.S. labor market has especially strong demand for workers at the middle-skill level: jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree.[2]

Immigrants represent one in six American workers,[3] and are crucial to meeting the demand for middle-skill occupations such as machine operator, welder, certified nurse aide, and computer user support specialist. Training for middle-skill occupations is often provided by community colleges, where some immigrants draw on public benefits such as SNAP to enable them to complete their studies. Counting these students’ use of public benefits as a negative factor in the public charge test will undermine their ability to upskill and prepare for the open positions that American employers need to fill.

  • The new rule would reduce enrollment, retention, and completion rates in adult education and workforce programs. Evidence from prior changes in immigration policy strongly suggests that many immigrants who are not subject to the public charge test will nevertheless withdraw from a broad array of public programs and services out of confusion, fear, or an abundance of caution. For example, following passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, thousands of immigrant families withdrew from public benefits programs for which they were eligible.[4] The proposed new rule has been widely publicized, and human services agencies are already reporting an increase in immigrants disenrolling from public benefits programs.[5] If this regulation is enacted, it is reasonable to expect that this type of disenrollment will continue, and will include two types of needless disenrollment: 1) immigrants who are not subject to the public charge test, and 2) immigrants who disenroll even from services that are not included in the public charge determination. Such needless disenrollment would lower overall participation rates for adult education and workforce programs, as well as reducing the likelihood of success for participants who withdraw from services midway through a program.
  • The new rule would increase financial instability for immigrants who are college students and heighten their risk of dropping out. Many college students are part of larger households, either as adult children or as spouses and parents themselves. This is especially true for community college students, whose average age is 26 years old. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of community college students have family income of less than $20,000 per year.[6] Penalizing immigrant students for drawing on public benefits would have a tremendous negative impact on these financially fragile households, making it more likely that students would need to cut back on their course load or withdraw from education altogether. The long-term effect would be to reduce higher education attainment among some of the very students who most need to build a strong economic footing for themselves, their families, and their American communities.
  • The new rule could punish immigrants for attempting to improve their English skills. Research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that better basic skills and higher earnings are tightly connected in the United States – more so than in other industrialized countries.[7] This means that as immigrants improve their reading, math, and spoken English skills, they are better able to contribute economically to American society. The proposed regulation acknowledges the centrality of English language skills to economic self-sufficiency by characterizing them as a positive factor in the totality of circumstances test. However, individuals commonly improve their English skills through participation in education programs such as those offered at community colleges. Individuals who rely on Medicaid or other public benefits to enable them to succeed in their English language classes could be discouraged from continuing their education and improving their employability by fear of being found a public charge.

Potential Challenges for Adult Education and Workforce Training Providers

  • The new rule would create confusion and add expensive, time-consuming responsibilities for financial aid advisors, guidance counselors, and educators. Adult learners and workers rely on professionals to give them accurate guidance as they make important life decisions about which higher education or workforce program to enroll in, how to pay for tuition, how much debt they can safely take on, and the financial consequences of their decisions. The proposed rule would increase the preparation required for high school guidance counselors, college financial aid advisers, career navigators, and other education professionals, as they would need substantial training in order to provide accurate guidance to immigrant applicants and their families about the repercussions of accessing public benefits as they pursue their educational goals. School districts, higher education institutions, and nonprofit organizations would thus be subject to an unfunded mandate. Higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and state and local agencies would also face the challenge of updating enrollment forms, software programs, and other documentation that currently reassures participants that enrolling in publicly funded programs will not jeopardize their immigration status, and substituting a much more nuanced and complicated disclaimer.
  • The new rule would place workforce professionals at risk of providing advice far beyond their areas of expertise. There are more than 550 workforce boards in the United States, thousands of American Job Centers, and tens of thousands of workforce training providers. Staff at these agencies and programs are expected to be knowledgeable about workforce development, not to be immigration legal experts. The new rule would remove a clear, bright-line standard for when an immigrant may be considered a public charge, and replace it with a highly complex, multi-faceted test. This increased complexity would make it difficult for education and workforce provider staff to advise participants in a straightforward way on whether using a public benefit might jeopardize their immigration status. As a result, workforce systems could be forced to use scarce public resources to train staff on an exceptionally complicated new set of federal restrictions. In addition, confusion or excessive caution could lead individuals to be turned away from services for which they are actually eligible.

Potential Issues for State and Local Adult Education Systems

  • The new rule would undercut state and local education and workforce policy goals. State and local governments regularly advance policies to improve the education and employability of their residents. For example, more than 40 states have established goals for postsecondary credential attainment, such as having 60 percent of state residents earn a college degree or other postsecondary credential by 2025.[8] Many states will not be able to reach their goals without including their immigrant residents.[9]

To accomplish their goals, states have established programs and services to equip returning adult students to persist and succeed in their education, including through assistance in accessing key public benefits. For example, in 2018 Illinois passed Senate Bill 351, known as the College Hunger Bill, to facilitate access to SNAP benefits for certain low-income college students.[10] Research has shown that supportive services that help individuals access public benefits programs are often vital to ensuring that working adults succeed in postsecondary education.[11] However, the proposed public charge rule would penalize immigrants for using such benefits, thus creating a disincentive for them to participate in the very programs that are intended to help them succeed in their education and contribute economically. As a result, this federal regulation would undercut state and local efforts to invest in the human capital of their residents, by discouraging qualified immigrants from even applying for public benefits programs.

Our central concern is thus the negative effect that the proposed rule would likely have on immigrant participation in publicly funded adult education and workforce programs, extending far beyond the scope of the proposed rule itself. Even though the public charge proposal does not apply to some categories of immigrants (such as refugees), and even though it does not include education and workforce programs, the mere proposal of these regulatory changes has already had a notable negative effect.[12] Given the complexity of the new rule, education and workforce professionals may find it difficult to give a blanket reassurance to worried adult learners and jobseekers, and may see dips in enrollment, participation, and completion.

In light of these concerns, the NCL urges DHS to withdraw the proposed rule in its entirety, and instead to allow the principles that were affirmed in the 1999 field guidance on public charge to remain in effect. This field guidance, issued by the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), is consistent with Congressional intent and case law. It represents a clear, straightforward standard that is administratively simple and relatively non-burdensome for workforce and education service providers to communicate to their immigrant constituents, and has been in use for decades.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of these comments and for your action in response to the concerns we raise.


Deborah Kennedy



[1] Source: The United States’ Forgotten Middle (National Skills Coalition, 2017.) Available at

[2] Ibid.

[3]Source: Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration (Migration Policy Institute, February 8, 2018.)

[4] Michael Fix & Jeffery Passel, Trends in Noncitizens’ and Citizens’ Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform, March 1999, (noting fear and confusion around public charge as a factor in noncitizen benefit enrollment decreases), available at Also see Leighton Ku & Alyse Freilich, Caring for Immigrants: Health Care Safety Nets in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Houston, Feb. 2001 (detailing several conversations with immigrants who decided that the risk of public charge was too great to receive Medicaid, even though policy had been issued that Medicaid posed no public charge risk), available at

[5] Source: ”Spooked by Trump Proposals, Immigrants Abandon Public Nutrition Services,” (New York Times, March 6, 2018.) Available at:

[6] Source: Community College FAQs (Community College Research Center, Columbia University, n.d.) Available at :

[7] Time for the US to Reskill? (OECD, 2013.)

[8] See overview of all states here: and details on 29 of the state goals here:

[9] See, for example: Middle Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers : Texas’ Untapped Assets (National Skills Coalition, 2017.)

[10] Source : “Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP, “ (Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, n.d.) Available at :

[11] Source: Connecting College Students to Alternative Sources of Support The Single Stop Community College Initiative and Postsecondary Outcomes (Rand Corp., 2016.) Available at:

[12] For evidence of this effect, see “A proposed federal policy won’t target immigrants for using welfare. In Texas, they might drop out anyway” (Texas Tribune, Sept 28, 2018). Available at: See also “Immigrants drop subsidized food, health programs – fearing aid will be used against them” (NBC News, Sept 8, 2018). Available at

International Literacy Day is September 8

International Literacy Day is September 8

The United Nations’ International Literacy Day is observed each year on September 8. The day recognizes the centrality of literacy to the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; per the UN website, it “is an opportunity for Governments, civil society and stakeholders to highlight improvements in world literacy rates, and reflect on the world’s remaining literacy challenges.”

The theme for this year’s International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Skills Development.” For more information, visit the UN website at

Announcement: The 2018 Literacy Leadership Awards

Announcement: The 2018 Literacy Leadership Awards

It is our pleasure to announce the recipients of the NCL Literacy Leadership Awards for 2018. In addition to the Literacy Leadership Awards, this year the NCL Board will be making the inaugural Barbara Bush Lifetime Achievement in Adult Literacy Award. This new award is intended to recognize an individual who has made significant contributions as an advocate for adult literacy over a full professional career.
1. The inaugural Barbara Bush Lifetime Achievement in Adult Literacy Award: Gail Spangenberg

Gail Spangenberg has been a consistent and influential voice in support of educational opportunity for low-skilled adults for decades. Her focus has consistently been the expansion and improvement of policies and programs that allow these adults to develop the literacy and workplace skills necessary to support their families, promote their children’s education, and participate effectively in civic and community life.

2. Literacy Leadership Award: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
The award recognizes the Senator for her longtime support of education at all levels, and particularly for her work on the recent reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Her advocacy for the inclusion of tribes and tribal organizations opens the path to educational opportunity for youth and adults from these key populations of adult learners.
3. Literacy Leadership Award: National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (Migration Policy Institute)
The award recognizes the Center, and its director, Margie McHugh, for its ongoing advocacy for education quality and access for adults who are immigrants and refugees.
4. Literacy Leadership Award: Student Ambassador Program
The award recognizes the program, developed by the staff at Pima Community College led by Regina Suitt, for its many years of success in both conducting advocacy for adult education and enabling adult learners to develop confidence in themselves and in their skills as advocates. That success, and the quality and value of the program, have led to its growth to national scale through the COABE Student Ambassador Training in the past year.
5. Literacy Leadership Award: Jeff Carter
The award recognizes Jeff’s long and effective career as an advocate for adult literacy and adult education, culminating in the presidency of the Committee for Education Funding.
The 2018 Literacy Leadership Awards will be presented to honorees at a formal event on Capitol Hill during Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. The event will take place on Tuesday, September 25, 2018, 4:00-6:00 PM, in the Cannon House Office Building, Room 340. This event is free and open to the public; you are welcome to attend. Those who plan to attend should RSVP to
Please feel free to share this announcement with colleagues who may be interested.
Our congratulations to all of the 2018 honorees!
NCL Takes Action on Proposed 2020 Census Citizenship Question

NCL Takes Action on Proposed 2020 Census Citizenship Question

The U.S. Department of Commerce has indicated that it plans to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census. The NCL and its member organizations are deeply concerned about the effects that the addition of this question may have on the accuracy of the Census, particularly with regard to refugee and immigrant populations, and therefore on the availability of federal resources for programs that serve those populations.

In response, the NCL has taken action in two ways.

1. Signing on to amicus briefs filed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in legal cases on the issue: New York v. Commerce, California v. Ross, and City of San Jose and Black Alliance for Just Immigration v. Ross. For more information, including the text of the briefs and lists of those signing on, see the press releases issued by the Leadership Conference:

2. Submitting a comment in response to the public comment invitation in the Federal Register

The text of the NCL’s comment is reproduced below. For more information and guidance on submitting a comment of your own, visit the website of The Census Project. Note that the deadline for submitting a comment is August 7.



NCL comment on 2020 Census, submitted 25 July 2018


Jennifer Jessup
Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer
U.S. Department of Commerce
Room 6616
14th and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230

The National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) is submitting this response to the comment request on the 2020 Census posted by the Department of Commerce in the Federal Register on June 8, 2018.

The NCL is a national coalition of the leading national and regional organizations dedicated to advancing adult education, family literacy, and English language acquisition in the United States. We envision a society where all adults are able to fulfill their potential and achieve their goals through access to high quality adult education and literacy services provided by an integrated and well-developed system.

As educators, we strongly urge the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census form. Including this question will undermine the quality and accuracy of the Census in every community, because households will be afraid to participate, as demonstrated by preliminary evidence from Census test administrators in Rhode Island. Many administrators reported that residents refused to provide personal information because of the decision to ask about citizenship status, despite the question not being part of that test.[1]

Including the citizenship question is therefore likely to put the Census at risk of a significant undercount, especially among hard-to-reach population groups that are already fearful of answering government surveys, according to the Bureau’s own research.[2] These groups include immigrants with legal status and naturalized U.S. citizens, as well as minorities and individuals with lower educational attainment.

We include the two references cited in footnotes 1 and 2 for the benefit of the Department of Commerce in reviewing these comments. We direct the Commerce Department to each of the items cited, and ask that they, along with the full text of these comments, be considered part of the formal administrative record on this proposed rule for purposes of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Throughout our work in the adult education field, we have seen the potential of education and literacy to improve individuals’ lives, break cycles of intergenerational poverty, and empower individuals to contribute actively to their communities. Adult education services—which rely on accurate Census data to apportion resources—provide the foundation for adult immigrants and refugees to learn English and become naturalized citizens, and for these and other adults with low levels of educational attainment to earn high school diplomas/equivalents, prepare for postsecondary education, support their children’s educational and developmental success, and lift their families out of poverty.

The U.S. adult education system provides these services with extremely limited resources; as a result, it is only able to provide services to a fraction of the millions who would benefit from them. The primary source of federal funding for adult education is through Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. A Census undercount would likely result in a reduced and/or inequitable allocation of federal funds provided to states through WIOA. This is especially troubling because the communities most likely to be undercounted if the citizenship question is included—those with heavy concentrations of immigrant families—are among those most likely to benefit from adult education services. Therefore, the National Coalition for Literacy strongly urges the Commerce Department to reverse its decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Respondent Confidentiality Concerns and Possible Effects on Response Rates and Data Quality for the 2020 Census. National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations Fall Meeting, November 2, 2017.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Strategic framework for messaging in the American Community Survey mailing materials.

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