NIAC Staff

NIAC Staff

Public Charge FAQ

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The Trump administration is once again attempting to close the door to immigration by significantly expanding what types of public assistance preclude individuals from receiving a visa or permanent residency. These changes may significantly impact Iranians.

How is the current public charge rule applied?

Prospective immigrants have long been susceptible to inadmissibility, deportation, and preclusion from receiving permanent residency for receiving certain public benefits. When they receive a certain threshold of benefits they are determined to be a “public charge” or someone who is likely to become reliant on public benefits. Past field guidance defined a “public charge” as someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” However, only 3% of noncitizens use benefits like cash payments that are included in this limited definition. The Trump administration plans to dramatically expand what benefits are included.

MAIN TAKE-AWAY: If you are likely to become reliant on public benefits then your status will likely be at risk once this new rule takes effect.

What is the proposed change?

The proposed policy rejects earlier Clinton-era guidance that excludes non-cash benefits and instead defines a “public charge” as any alien who receives one or more public benefits. This means that an individual who receives benefits or is expected to receive benefits based on age, education, health, income, or education will likely be considered a public charge – and be at risk of visa denials, visa extension denials, and being precluded from permanent residence and/or citizenship – if they receive any public funds directly or indirectly and even if they are not primarily dependent on the government.

The administration justifies this definition based on a medley of case law and dictionary definitions that “generally suggest that an impoverished or ill individual who receives public benefits for a substantial component of their support and care can be reasonably viewed as being a public charge.”

The proposed policy specifically defines a public charge as anyone who receives benefits including medical care (e.g., Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy & Medicaid except in the case of an emergency medical condition), housing (e.g., Section 8), and food (e.g., SNAP – informally known as food stamps) that exceed 15% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) for a household of one within a period of 12 or non-monetized benefits that are received for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. The federal poverty level for a single person in a 12-month period is $12,140 and monetized benefits cannot exceed 15% of this figure which is $1,821. This is severely limiting for individuals with disabilities, students, parents, and many others. Earning less than 125% of the federal poverty level and limited education will also be applied negatively against the individual. This may have the effect of chilling benefits requests.

Will the changes be applied retroactively?

The government claims that the policy is not retroactive. In other words, you will not be held accountable for public aid received before the changes go into effect.

What common benefits will be excluded from the public charge consideration?

Common benefits that will be excluded from consideration in public charge determinations are student loans, emergency medical care, women infants and children (WIC), CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program, subject to change), and disaster relief.

Asylees and refugees are not subject to the public charge determinations.

Will the changes apply to the issuance and/or extension of non-immigrant visas?


Should I drop my benefits if I am a foreign national?

The short answer is not yet. The “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” proposal will remain on the Federal Register for comments until December 10, 2018. According to USCIS’s own FAQ, the rule will be prospective (i.e. it will only apply to benefits received at the time or after its effective date, but not to past benefits). After the proposed rule is considered for public comments on the Federal Register, the DHS will issue a final rule with an effective date. So your benefits will not count against you until this final effective date; however, you should plan accordingly as there is a strong chance this rule will take effect. We will update our own FAQ as things develop. Please note that if you are a refugee or asylee the proposed rule does not apply to you.

Ultimately, each individual will have to make their own risk calculation. We understand that for some individuals their present need for assistance will be more important than long-term concerns about status. We do not think this is fair and it is for this very reason that we are opposed to the changes.

How can I express my opposition to the proposed changes?

You can express your opposition to the proposed rule by visiting this link, clicking on the “Comment Now” tab, entering your comment in the text box, and following the prompts. Do not submit the same comment or ask others to submit the same comment more than once as it will not be counted twice. Comments are being accepted through December 10, 2018.

*This document is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.*

NIAC Statement on Horrific Synagogue Attack


Washington, DC – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the horrific attack on worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh:

“We are shocked and horrified by the tragic slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning, which was holding a Shabbat for refugees. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the Jewish community and all those terrorized by this hate crime. In the wake of this tragedy, we must unite and demand that our political leaders cease fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry against all minorities.”
NIAC Policy Brief

From the Hill: NIAC Asks if the U.S. and Iran are on a Collision Course

NIAC Policy Brief

The Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran risk “impoverishing the Iranian middle class, crushing the Iranian civil society and eliminating prospects for peaceful democratic change,” warned Sina Toossi. “It is really creating a destructive situation internally.”

Toossi was speaking at a briefing on Capitol Hill examining the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against Iran. Moderated by Laicie Heeley, the editor-in-chief of Inkstick, the panel included Ned Price, a former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs who currently works at National Security Action; Sina Toossi, a research associate at NIAC; and Barbara Slavin, the Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Price highlighted that the Trump administration’s push was highly focused on pressuring Iran, but that it was likely to fall short of the efforts of the Obama administration which had secured the buy-in of the international community. Regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands of Iran, it was unclear to Price “how the administration could come close to any one of these objectives, let alone all twelve.” According to the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin, Trump’s exit out of the JCPOA humiliated our allies in Europe, who helped negotiate the nuclear accord, engaged with the State Department’s Brian Hook to seek to improve it and were furious when Trump decided to snap back sanctions anyway.

Price argued that the administration’s frequent statements on Iran were designed not only to try to increase pressure on Iran but also to “engender additional domestic political support for the administration’s hardline approach to Iran” that is similar to the approach toward Iraq undertaken by the George W. Bush administration. Price also warned that there is an increasingly likelihood of a confrontation in Syria, where the administration has stationed troops and begun to shift goals from ISIL to forcing Iran out of the country. “The administration has gone to great lengths to say that regime change whether by proxies or by force is not the goal,” stated Price. “[B]ut I think that is belied by the fact that this administration has begun… to implement this maximalist position.”

Toossi gave further insights into the effects of Trump’s Iran policy on the political spectrum inside Iran. He called Trump’s narrative of Iran’s regime being on its last legs, “wishful thinking” given that there is not currently a broad revolutionary movement within the country. He emphasized how these policies not only harm forces pushing for greater openness and moderation, but also stiffen hardline opposition to the administration’s demands and deepen their opposition towards negotiating with the West all together.

Slavin further warned that the Trump administration’s Iran policy has highlighted the danger of “putting all our eggs in one basket in a region,” following the “brutal murder” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of thugs in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

“It’s pretty devastating that it had to take the murder of a U.S. resident and Washington Post contributor to put a spotlight on the hypocrisy of the Trump administration’s policy towards the Middle East,” stated Price. He noted that Mike Pompeo’s article on the administration’s Iran policy in Foreign Affairs this week included a section entitled “Acting with Moral Clarity.” Yet, Price noted “this is the same Mike Pompeo that we saw yesterday smiling with Mohammed bin Salman” in Riyadh following Khashoggi’s murder. The hypocrisy combined with America’s isolation following the snapback of sanctions will “shine a very harsh light” on Trump’s approach to the Middle East, warned Price.

Response to Lindsey Graham’s Racist Remark on Fox & Friends

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to Lindsey Graham’s racist remark on Fox and Friends this morning:

“It is absolutely disgusting for Senator Graham to state on Fox and Friends that it would be ‘terrible’ to discover that he had Iranian ancestry from a DNA test. This is not the first time that Graham has made bigoted remarks about Iranians. In 2015, he said ‘I know Iranians are liars’ based on his experience in his dad’s pool hall.

“If you dread the notion of Iranian ancestry and believe all Iranians are liars, you are hopelessly bigoted and unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate where votes affect tens of millions of Iranians and millions more of Iranian ancestry in the diaspora.

“Graham must apologize for his remarks in 2015 and recant his atrocious attempt at a joke on Fox and Friends this morning. The Iranian-American community will not forget such casual racism, nor will it forget which party has enacted policy on the basis of such racism by banning our family members from Iran.”

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Meet Stephen Kinzer, featured speaker at NIAC’s NYC Soirée and Fundraiser


Get your ticket to meet Stephen Kinzer by filling out the form below:


NIAC Condemns John Bolton’s Saber Rattling

The National Iranian American Council condemned National Security Advisor John Bolton’s saber rattling speech outside the UN in which he ominously threatened that ‘there will be hell to pay’ for Iran:

“Bolton has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for over a decade and is now in the driver’s seat of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy. His threats are aimed at inflaming tensions, preventing any possibility that his boss might negotiate with Iran, and goading Iran into to doing something that could justify a U.S. attack. The Trump Administration has also callously adopted the language of human rights, even as it threatens war, levels sanctions that will destroy Iranian lives, and undermines efforts by Iranians to organize indigenously to claim their political freedoms from a repressive government.

“Bolton’s past rhetoric raises serious questions about this Administration’s activities when it comes to Iran. Before entering the White House, Bolton publicly urged Trump to back separtist groups and terrorist organizations that could work to destabilize Iran. This past weekend, a terrorist attack inside Iran killed 27 people in the city of Ahvaz, and separatists and terrorist organizations claimed credit. The Trump Administration issued a condemnation of the attack but the fact that the National Security Advisor has endorsed such heinous efforts significantly undermines the credibility or morality of such condemnations.

“No serious person believes that Bolton and this Administration is working towards a diplomatic end with Iran. He earned his credentials in the Bush White House as an Iraq war architect, he made his intentions for war with Iran well known as a private citizen, and he is now putting that plan into action. Whether Bolton’s ultimate plan is for the U.S. to attack Iran or to attempt to destabilize Iran and turn it into the next Syria, he must be reigned in now. When the President’s National Security Advisor steps out of the shadows to publicly threaten war on behalf of the United States, it must be taken as a wake up call as to where we are headed. Congress must take steps now to ensure this Administration does not start a new military adventure with Iran, including by passing legislation to block the likes of Bolton from starting another war and conducting stringent oversight over all elements of the Administration’s Iran strategy.”


Iran Experts Applaud International Community’s Support for JCPOA, Condemn Trump’s Unilateral Bullying of Iran

Statement from Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people, on President Trump’s speech to the United Nations Security Council today:

“NIAC applauds the strong support of the international community for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at the United Nations Security Council meeting this morning, chaired by President Trump. This administration claims it has rallied the international community against Iran, but Trump’s empty rhetoric was exposed as a lie, and global leaders rebuked U.S. efforts against the deal as undermining the cause of nuclear nonproliferation and global peace and security.

“Unfortunately, Trump and his team of warhawks are uninfluenced by global opinion, and have inflicted economic pain in Iran, and allied countries, through unilateral bullying. If this administration is not restrained, Trump threatens to damage America’s credibility, Middle East security, and global nonproliferation efforts, and influence with Iran will take generations to restore.”

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NIAC Condemns Outrageous Terror Attack in Ahvaz

The National Iranian American Council released the following statement after dozens were killed and injured in a terror attack in Ahvaz, Iran:

“Tragically, terrorists have again struck inside Iran, killing dozens of civilians at a military parade in Ahvaz. The National Iranian American Council condemns this act of terror and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Just as the Iranian people have mourned the loss of Americans due to terrorism, including after the 9/11 attacks, the American people stand in solidarity with the Iranian people.

“It is impossible to discount the possibility that this attack was deliberately timed and targeted to prompt an escalatory response from Iran that triggers a broader war with the United States. American officials spent this week issuing veiled threats against Iran. American ally Saudi Arabia has also, dangerously, warned that it would take the fight inside Iran. Moreover, National Security Advisor John Bolton last year called for assistance to Iranian separatist groups, including Khuzestan Arabs who claimed credit for today’s attack. All of these factors necessitate a clear and unconditional American condemnation of the attack.

“We need statesmanship now more than ever. If the President responds as he did to terror attacks in Iran in 2017, when he blamed Iran for provoking the attacks, he risks worsening the crisis. President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, unofficial spokespersons of this administration and members of the U.S. Congress must condemn the attack in solidarity with the Iranian people without delay and offer any assistance that might shed light on the perpetrators and what motivated them.

“We call on all sides to act with restraint, and not fall into a trap of escalation without off ramps. Iran should show restraint and help to de-escalate the crisis, and avoid falling into the trap of further inflaming it.”

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NIAC Sends Letter on Long Administrative Processing for Student Visas

NIAC wrote to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in regard to reports of long administrative processing times for Iranian students, including visa renewals for those who have already began studying in the U.S, requesting to meet with the offices. Please find the letter in its entirety below.

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Letter Regarding Student Visa Applicants

Sanctions Bar Educational Platform from Servicing Iranians

A nonprofit online education platform, edX, cited a delay in obtaining a U.S. government license as the basis for a recent suspension of services that inadvertently affected Iranian Americans. After sending an open letter to the company, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has been working with edX to resolve complications arising from the suspension.

According to a response from edX, its specific license from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for Iran expired prior to being granted a renewal. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran prohibit U.S. companies, such as edX, from exporting services to Iran, including educational services to Iranian nationals located in Iran, which impacted the availability of some edX courses. In order to comply with U.S. sanctions absent a specific license for work involving Iran, across a learner base of over 17 million users, edX identified individuals who could be resident in Iran based on self-identified country residence and IP address and barred them from coursework.

This appears to have included at least some individuals who are not currently resident in Iran (but whose last activity on edX indicated an Iran IP address), including at least one U.S. citizen based outside Iran. However, NIAC has found no evidence of discriminatory intent by edX, and NIAC staff has been assured by edX that it is willing to work to resolve any remaining complications for individuals who should be legally permitted to access edX’s online coursework. If you or a friend believe that they have been erroneously barred from edX coursework, please do not hesitate to contact either NIAC staff ( or edX Support (

NIAC notes that the availability of coursework to Iranian nationals, regardless of their country of residence, ultimately serves U.S. interests by building bridges to and empowering the Iranian people. Unfortunately, by failing to issue broad enough general licenses to permit edX and similar educational platforms to make its coursework available to Iranians, OFAC has once again ensured that sanctions harm the Iranian people but not the regime. We encourage OFAC to issue necessary licenses for platforms like edX and to carve out broad exemptions to enable Iranian nationals the ability to access educational and communications tools.

EdX Response to NIAC