The rule has been criticized by immigrant rights advocates as a "wealth test" that would disproportionately keep out non-white immigrants.
Susan Welber, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, which is fighting the policy in the NY courts, urged immigrants to consult with legal experts about the policy "before assuming it applies to them".
The justices' order came by a 5-4 vote and reversed a ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in NY that had kept in place a nationwide hold on the policy following lawsuits against it. Solicitor General Noel Francisco appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, asking the judges to allow the rule to come into force for the duration of the appeal process. The 2nd Circuit is considering the matter on an expedited basis, with legal papers to be submitted by February 14 and arguments expected soon afterward.
The Court has since addressed the issue of DACA and will rule before July.
Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli praised the ruling saying the Trump administration is "happy to see the Supreme Court step in the way they did here". To this end, the rule has the potential to reshape legal immigration by limiting access to green cards to low-income immigrants.
The public charge rule has faced fierce opposition from immigrant activists, as well as many Democrats - who have opposed measures to limit welfare for immigrants, while also calling for the extension of various forms of government aid to illegal immigrants as well.
The administration said it is just trying to make sure immigrants can cover their own expenses to avoid beconing a burden on taxpayers. In the past, that was largely based on an assessment that an immigrant would be dependent upon cash benefits.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the implementation timeline.
While a "public charge" inadmissibility standard has always been part of US immigration law, it had not been formally defined by statute. USA guidelines in place for the past two decades had said immigrants likely to become primarily dependent on direct cash assistance or long-term institutionalization, in a nursing home for example, at public expense would be barred. The rule, announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in August, defines a "public charge" as an immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period.
The vast majority of people seeking permanent residency are not eligible for public benefits themselves.
Experts have pointed out that not only will the rule disqualify poor immigrants in the United States from becoming citizens, it also would scare away immigrants eligible for public benefits from claiming them for themselves or their USA -born children. The rule expands the number of benefits that can be considered from interim guidance issued in 1999.
The rule will affect people who are seeking legal permanent status, otherwise known as a green card.
The 5-4 decision is a major victory for President Trump, giving him a tentative go-ahead on one of his key policies.