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An Immigrant’s Future Could Come Down to Their Credit History

— August 19, 2019

Credit professionals say it’s the first time they’ve heard of checks being used for immigration applications.

The Trump administration’s decision to expand the definition of what constitutes a “public charge” means that an immigrant’s future in the United States could come down to their credit history.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the 800-page policy revision was issued by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this week. Administration officials say they want to ensure immigrants—prospective and current—are able to subsist in the United States without government assistance.

Most major media outlets have already reported the rule’s impact on low-income immigrants. Among other things, receiving food stamps or availing programs like Medicaid could make it more difficult for legal immigrants to receive a green card or renew an existing one. Officials will also be able to exercise significant discretion in making decisions—anyone deemed “likely” to receive welfare could have their applications turned down, too.

But the changes will allow the government—quite possibly for the very first time—to use credit history as a gauge for immigration potential.

While the final published rule notes that the government can use many metrics in its evaluation of an individual immigration request, it’s stipulated that a low credit score or “negative credit history” can indicate “that a person’s financial status is weak and that he or she may not be self-sufficient.”

“Lenders have used credit reports and scores for decades to help determine whether to approve consumers for loans,” writes The Wall Street Journal. “But those in the credit-reporting industry said they can’t recall another time where credit reports affected U.S. immigration applications.”

Image of posters at an immigration rally
Posters at a Immigration Rally; image courtesy of StockSnap via Pixabay,

When pressed about its inclusion of credit scores as a criteria for immigration applications, the Department of Homeland Security pointed media to prior statements.

“Self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of hardworking immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States,” said the DHS in a news release, issued shortly after the rule’s announcement.

Critics of the revision say the Trump administration appears to be limiting opportunities for low-income migrants, most of whom come from Latin America and Africa.

“Never before in our history have we closed off the American dream to strivers who aren’t already middle-class,” Doug Rand told the New York Times. Rand, says the NYT, worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House and co-founded a technology start-up that helps immigrants obtain green cards. “This is an attempt to turn back the clock and dramatically change the face of new Americans.”

Compounding the financial limits are the Department’s own requirements—immigrants may “obtain a credit report for free, but in its estimates DHS assumed that applicants would pay for the report.”

The WSJ adds that applicants who haven’t lived in the United States and don’t have U.S. credit histories won’t be negatively affected. But immigrants who’ve spent time in America—but not enough to build a solid history—could be penalized simply for having young credit.


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