The Trump administration announced a policy change on Monday (August 12) that is poised to have a major impact on the immigration system, The Washington Post reports. Any immigrants who have applied for government services including Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance are now at risk of being denied a green card or American citizenship. 

The updated “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” rule—which comes from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is expected to take effect in two months. The policy seeks to limit immigration by broadening what it means to be a “public charge,” or someone who depends on federal benefits. And it makes factors like wealth, education, age and English-language skills more valuable to those looking for a path to citizenship. As The Post points out, “The Trump administration has been seeking to limit those immigrants who might draw on taxpayer-funded benefits, such as many of those who have been fleeing Central America, while allowing more highly skilled and wealthy immigrants into the United States.”

This policy also sets a “vast array of new criteria to assess whether an individual is ‘likely’ to someday become a public charge,” according to The Post. For example, green card applicants dealing with medical conditions or financial challenges that would prevent them from covering “any reasonably foreseeable medical costs,” could find themselves ineligible for approval. Immigrants are at the mercy of this new rule if they’ve been approved for any public benefit, even if they never received or made use of the benefit. Other signs that a person could “likely” become a “public charge” include low credit scores, no private health insurance, no college degree and limited English language skills. 

Doug Rand, a former Obama administration official and an immigration consultant, spoke to The Post about this major shift in immigration policy. “With one regulation, they are attempting to scratch two itches: one is penalizing immigrants for using public benefits that they are legally entitled to, and the other is cutting legal immigration in half,” he said. “And the way you cut legal immigration in half is by kicking the doors out from the definition of ‘likely to become a public charge.’”

Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center told The Post this is another way for the Trump administration to punish poor people. She described the policy as “President Trump’s attempts to fundamentally transform our immigration system to favor the wealthy.”