Upwardly Global’s Public Charge Comment Submission

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Public Comment for Federal Registry

December 5, 2018 – Upwardly Global is a non-profit organization that helps work-authorized, college-educated immigrants, refugees, and asylee professionals rebuild their careers in the United States via job coaching and networking programs. We are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to federal policies regarding the public charge as outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

Our work with nearly 14,000 foreign-born professionals has repeatedly demonstrated that individuals’ current circumstances—especially the often-temporary conditions of poverty, unemployment, and accepting public aid—are not indicative of their future professional promise and economic contributions. As such, a shift to public charge determinations based on immigrants’ current use of public benefits will needlessly limit an important source of talent for our workforce and economy. We urge your agency to instead adhere to the current policy for public charge determinations, which is based on a longer-term outlook for immigrants’ economic contributions and financial independence.

Since opening our doors in 2000, Upwardly Global has repeatedly seen that immigrants who initially may need assistance ultimately are able to become strong contributors to their local economy and that of the nation. [1] In 37 percent of cases [2], Upwardly Global’s immigrant job seekers and their families lived below the federal poverty line—most worked in low-wage “survival jobs” and six percent drew on public support—before overcoming linguistic, cultural and other systemic barriers to find professional success in the United States. Our alumni now earn an average of $55,000 annually and collectively contribute $252 million in tax revenue and consumer spending to the U.S. economy each year. However, their previous household income levels and use of public benefits means they could have been deemed “public charges” under the NPRM, and thus precluded from advancing their immigration and professional status.  For example, Upwardly Global alumni who may be considered a public charge under the NPRM include:

  • A father of four from Bolivia whose family was living below the poverty line who is now working as a Senior Design Engineer making $100,000 per year;
  • A mother of three from India who was earning $10,000 per year and is now working as an application support specialist earning $50,000 per year;
  • A father of three from Ethiopia who had a household income of $12,000 per year and is now working as a Software Developer earning $95,000 per year;
  • A father of two from Turkey with a household income of $12,000 who secured a job as a Technology Product Manager earning $130,000;
  • A father of two from Jordan who was earning less than $10,000 per year before securing a job as a Technical Lead earning $83,000 per year; and
  • A woman, previously a physician in Myanmar, who was earning less than $10,000 when she first arrived in the United States. She has since passed the  United States Medical Licensing Examination and has secured a medical residency in internal medicine, now earning $63,000 per year.

In fact, 61 percent [3] of Upwardly Global’s immigrant program alumni—now analysts, project managers, and engineers, half of whom are employed in hard-to-fill positions in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) fields—could have been vulnerable to the public charge test based on their household incomes alone. [4]

Upwardly Global is concerned that policies that limit immigration based on current income or other socioeconomic factors will reap serious consequences for U.S. employers and the economy. Instead of implementing changes that will help U.S. businesses and our economy grow, the rules proposed in the NPRM would rob the U.S. of the raw talent and resilience that has always powered it forward.

Our specific concerns about the NPRM are outlined below:

  1. The rule will undercut U.S. companies and economy in tapping critical talent: Half of all newly-arrived immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree but almost two million college-educated immigrants are unemployed or underemployed, as they face systemic barriers to regaining their careers. [5] They lack professional networks, often face misperceptions about their foreign credentials, and may be subject to implicit biases in hiring processes. [6] This “brain waste” is detrimental to both individual job seekers and the U.S. economy overall. Many of these professionals—including 72 of Upwardly Global’s recent job seekers [7]—have relied on public aid programs to make ends meet while they rebuild their lives in the United States. Denying immigration privileges to these individuals robs U.S. employers of their talents—and federal, state, and local governments of $10 billion in tax receipts each year. [8] Upwardly Global engages with a national network of 350 businesses, large and small, that seek access to new, diverse pools of workers. More than half of our program alumni work in hard-to-fill STEM positions, a field with a documented talent shortage in the United States. [9]
  • The rule will have unintended consequences for professional and workforce development 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. [10] In addition to disenrollment in public benefit programs that may be included in public charge determinations under the NPRM, anecdotal evidence suggests that disenrollment may also extend to professional and workforce development programs, including Upwardly Global, even as these services are not included in public charge rulemaking. In the weeks following the announcement of proposed rule changes, Upwardly Global offices received numerous inquiries from program participants concerned that enrolling in our program could affect their immigration status. This mistaken disenrollment would lower overall participation rates for adult education and workforce programs, as well as reduce the likelihood of success for participants who withdraw from services midway through.

  • The rule will harm children and families: As the proposed regulation has been widely publicized in recent months, human services agencies have already reported an increase in immigrants disenrolling from public benefits programs, including nutrition programs for infants and children. [11] Upwardly Global is deeply concerned about the dangerous effects of this proposed policy change in forcing families to choose—or, in many cases, mistakenly believe they have to choose—between their immigration status or providing for the basic food, shelter, and medical needs of their families. Upwardly Global’s alumni support 4,500 family members, and we know that the current job seekers in our pipeline are also working hard to provide for families and children. Sudden disenrollment in these critical programs has dramatic economic and social implications.

In light of the above concerns, we urge DHS to withdraw this proposed rule in its entirety and instead allow the longstanding principles that were affirmed in the 1999 field guidance on public charge to remain in effect. The U.S. economy and U.S. employers need an immigration system that recognizes the potential in ambitious immigrants, not one that judges them by the number of bumps in their journeys as they rebuild lives and careers in the United States. Thank you  for your thoughtful consideration of these comments and action in response to the concerns we raise.


Jina Krause-Vilmar

President & CEO

Upwardly Global


[1] Upwardly Global serves an array of foreign-born professionals, including immigrants, refugees, and certain classes of protected immigrants (such as SIV holders). However, analysis in this document is based on data for immigrant alumni only. Upwardly Global recognizes that refugees and SIV holders are exempt from public charge determination, and as such, these groups of alumni have been excluded from Upwardly Global analysis on the effects of the NPRM.

[2] Analysis based on Upwardly Global analysis of income data available for 2017 and 2018 immigrant program alumni. Of 1109 individuals, 37 percent reported household incomes at or below 100% of the federal poverty level, based on household size, prior to connecting with Upwardly Global.

[3] Analysis based on Upwardly Global analysis of income data available for 2017 and 2018 immigrant program alumni. Of 1109 alumni, 61 percent reported household incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level based on household size, prior to connecting with Upwardly Global. A household income of 250% FPL is the threshold required to be “exempt” from public charge review under proposed new guidelines.

[4] Analysis of immigrant program alumni based on income levels alone; Upwardly Global recognizes that DHS public charge determinations are based on additional factors beyond income.

[5] Jeanne Batalova, Michael Fix, and James D. Bachmeir, “Untapped Talent: The Cost of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, December 2016. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/untapped-talent-costs-brain-waste-among-highly-skilled-immigrants-united-states.

[6] Ibid

[7]  Analysis based on data available for 2017 and 2018 program alumni.

[8] Jeanne Batalova, Michael Fix, and James D. Bachmeir, “Untapped Talent: The Cost of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, December 2016. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/untapped-talent-costs-brain-waste-among-highly-skilled-immigrants-united-states.

[9] New American Economy, “Sizing Up the Gap in our Supply of STEM Workers,” March 29, 2017: https://research.newamericaneconomy.org/report/sizing-up-the-gap-in-our-supply-of-stem-workers/

[10] Michael Fix & Jeffery Passel, Trends in Noncitizens’ and Citizens’ Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform, March 1999,  https://www.urban.org/research/publication/trends-noncitizens-and-citizens-use-public-benefits-following-welfare-reform. Also see Leighton Ku & Alyse Freilich, Caring for Immigrants: Health Care Safety Nets in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Houston, February 2001, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED453330.pdf

[11] Emily Baumgaertner, ”Spooked by Trump Proposals, Immigrants Abandon Public Nutrition Services,” New York Times, March 6, 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/03/06/us/politics/trump-immigrants-public-nutrition-services.html

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