Donald Trumps administration has announced a rule that would allow the US to reject visas and permanent residency to people for being too poor.
The US government announced on Monday a regulation to reduce the number of legal immigrants who are allowed to enter and reside in the country, by facilitating the rejection of applications for green cards and residence permits, Efe news reported.
A person holding a permanent resident card or some types of visas obtained through legal means would be affected if they cannot financially support themselves without public assistance.
It would also determine the granting of a legal visa by changing the criteria of the Department of Homeland Security when interpreting whether a foreigner "is likely to become a public charge at any time".
The interim director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has defended the new rule.
"Our rule generally prevents aliens who are likely to become a public charge from coming to the United States or remaining here and getting a green card," he said at a press conference at the White House.
"Public charge is now defined in a way that ensures the law is meaningfully enforced and that those who are subject to it are self-sufficient."
US authorities would be able to determine if an immigrant has become a public charge for the administration, that is a person who depends mainly on public funds to subsist, and then cancel their legal immigration status.
"Through the public charge rule, President Trump's administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility," Cuccinelli said.
"Ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America."
He explained that, under this new rule, a legal immigrant will be defined as a public charge if they receive public benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period.
"Under the rule a public charge is now defined as an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36 month period. For instance receipt of two different benefits in one month counts as two months," he added.
Public benefits include food assistance, housing assistance vouchers and programs that subsidize the cost of medicines.
Cucinnelli said that the measure would not affect refugees, asylum seekers, victims of domestic violence and trafficked people living in the US.
According to the government, the regulation will take effect from October 15.
It is expected that the new rule will face legal lawsuits in the coming days, so its final implementation could be delayed several months or even never occur.
Immigrant advocacy groups have argued that it would discriminate against immigrants from poorer countries, keep families apart and encourage legal residents to give up public assistance they might need to survive.
Organisations also said that the legislation would penalize immigrants with a work visa who need public assistance on a temporary basis.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has also shown a strong hand against illegal immigration by ordering the arrest of 680 immigrants during a mass raid in six cities in the state of Mississippi.
Some political analysts have said that Trump's latest actions on immigration are aimed at growing his voter base before the next presidential elections in November 2020.