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USCIS, Healthcare.gov Provide Highlights of Immigration Status Effects on ACA Eligibility

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services disseminated a stakeholder alert on March 13, 2014, noting that immigration status can affect eligibility for health care benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare. USCIS encourages stakeholders to visit http://www.healthcare.gov to learn more, including the most common immigration documents that may be submitted when applying for health insurance; options for families; how immigration status affects eligibility for insurance; and how to verify citizenship and immigration status.

The ACA website provides a long list of documents that can be used to show immigration status.

The website also provides the following list of eligible immigration statuses for health coverage through the "Marketplace":

  • Lawful permanent resident (LPR/green card holder)
  • Asylee
  • Refugee
  • Cuban/Haitian entrant
  • Paroled into the U.S.
  • Conditional entrant granted before 1980
  • Battered spouse, child, or parent
  • Victim of trafficking and his or her spouse, child, sibling, or parent
  • Granted withholding of deportation or withholding of removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention Against Torture (CAT)
  • Individual with nonimmigrant status (including worker visas, student visas, and citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau)
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)
  • Deferred Action Status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) isn’t an eligible immigration status for applying for health coverage)
  • Applicant for:
  • -    Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
  • -    Adjustment to LPR status with an approved visa petition
  • -    Victim of trafficking visa
  • -    Asylum who has either been granted employment authorization, OR is under 14 and has had an application for asylum pending for at least 180 days)
  • -    Withholding of deportation or withholding of removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) who has either been granted employment authorization, OR is under 14 and has had an application for withholding of deportation or withholding removal under the immigration laws or under the CAT pending for at least 180 days)
  • Certain individuals with an employment authorization document:
  • -    Registry applicants
  • -    Order of supervision
  • -    Applicant for cancellation of removal or suspension of deportation
  • -    Applicant for legalization under IRCA
  • -    Applicant for TPS
  • -    Legalization under the LIFE Act
  • Lawful temporary resident
  • Granted an administrative stay of removal by the Department of Homeland Security
  • Member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or American Indian born in Canada
  • Resident of American Samoa

The website notes that this information will only be used for determining access to health coverage in the Marketplace and will not be used for immigration enforcement purposes. Also, use of health care services through the Marketplace will not be considered a public charge.

U.S. Residents Living Abroad

The Affordable Care Act requires all "applicable individuals," including lawful permanent residents (LPRs), to maintain minimum essential health care coverage. The "minimum essential coverage" is required on a monthly basis, but only during those months that qualify people as "applicable individuals." The penalties for failing to obtain coverage only apply to required coverage months. Applicable individuals must maintain minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for an exemption, or pay a penalty when filing their federal income tax returns, starting with their 2014 returns.

All LPRs living outside the United States are considered "applicable individuals." The Affordable Care Act provides that U.S. tax residents, including LPRs, whose tax home is outside the United States and who are not physically present in the United States for at least 330 full days within a 12-consecutive-month period, are treated as having minimum essential coverage for that 12-month period. In general, such individuals qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion under section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code. We do not know yet whether individuals will be required to elect the foreign earned income exclusion to be deemed as having minimum essential coverage or whether a separate form will be developed for this purpose.

LPRs qualifying as having minimum essential coverage need take no further action to comply with the minimum essential coverage requirement during the months they qualify. LPRs with a tax home outside the United States who spend less than 330 full days outside the country within a 12-month period must maintain minimum essential coverage for the applicable period or pay the penalty for failing to do so.

LPRs who seek to claim a section 911-type foreign earned income exclusion to get out of the mandate under ACA should beware of adverse consequences on their LPR status. Living outside the United States for 330 days or more in itself could lead to a finding of abandonment if the LPR cannot successfully establish that his or her visit abroad was temporary under court precedents. Even if LPRs assert that their trips abroad were temporary, claiming a section 911 benefit to avoid the health insurance coverage under Obamacare could bolster the government's charges that they abandoned their status. Taking a section 911 exemption can also impair the applicant's ability to show that he or she did not disrupt continuity of residence during the relevant 5- or 3-year period for naturalization purposes. INA § 316(b) states that an absence from the United States of more than 6 months but less than 1 year during the 5-year period immediately preceding the filing of the application may break the continuity of such residence.

Penalty for Failure to Maintain Minimum Essential Coverage

LPRs and other applicable individuals who fail to maintain required minimum essential coverage must pay a penalty, known as the "individual shared responsibility payment." The annual penalty is calculated in one of two ways, and the applicable individual will pay the higher of:

  • 1% of the applicable individual's yearly worldwide income up to a maximum amount. Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, or $10,150 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty. The maximum penalty is the national average yearly premium for a "bronze plan," which will be calculated in 2014 at around $4500. 
  • $95 per person for 2014 ($47.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $285.

The applicable individual will owe 1/12th of the annual payment for each month they or their dependents do not have coverage and are not exempt. The payment will be due when LPRs file their 2014 tax returns in 2015.

LPRs and other noncitizens should consult a competent tax professional before making essential decisions regarding their obligations under the Affordable Care Act. LPRs living abroad for significant periods are always at risk of losing their permanent residence status and should contact their ABIL attorney about steps that should be taken to maintain it.


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