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FAQs and Resources

What is Public Charge and what benefits are included? 

Find answers and information sources to these and other public charge questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more before making decisions about public benefits for you and your family. Here are a few Frequently Asked Questions to get you started:


Q. What are public benefits?

A. Public benefits are government benefits like food, cash, housing, and medical assistance for people with low or no income. Examples include CalFresh/SNAP (food stamps), CalWORKs/TANF, Public Housing, and Medi-Cal/Medicaid.


Q. What is "Public Charge"?

A. Public Charge is a rule for some people applying for Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card) or certain other visas to enter the U.S. It mainly affects people who are applying based on a family petition. someone who depends too much on public benefits could be considered a "public charge". Immigration officers may deny the application if they decide someone is likely to become a public charge. They consider a person's health, age, income, family/sponsor support, skills, education, and if they get certain public benefits.

The Public Charge rules do not affect everyone, and not every public benefit is included in the test.


Q. Does the Public Charge rule apply to all immigrants?

A. No. The rule does not affect:

  • U.S. Citizens or Applicants for Citizenship.
  • Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders). Note: if a Green Card holder leaves the U.S. for more than six months, the Public Charge rule can apply when they try to return.
  • People applying for Green Card renewal, DACA renewal, TPS, U or T Visas, Asylum or Refugee status, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or VAWA.
  • People who have U or T Visa, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, VAWA or Asylum/Refugee status.
  • People applying for a Green Card based on a U or T Visa, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, VAWA or Asylum/Refugee status.

There are other, less common immigration statuses that are not affected by the Public Charge rule. For a longer list, click here.


Q. Does the Public Charge rule include every public benefit?

A. No. Many benefits are not included in the Public Charge rule. See the benefits list below.

Using these benefits won't affect the public charge test:

  • WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children)
  • Medicare
  • Disaster relief
  • National school lunch or school breakfast programs
  • Foster care and adoption
  • Head Start
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP)
  • Premium Tax Credit under the ACA (Covered California)
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit
  • COVID-19 testing and treatment

These benefits are already in the Public Charge test: 

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • CalWORKs/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • CAPI
  • State or local general relief or general assistance
  • Long-term care at a nursing home paid for by the government

For family-based green card applications filed on or after February 24, 2020:

These benefits are added to the Public Charge test (if they are received on or after February 24, 2020)*

  • Federally funded, Non-Emergency Medicaid/Medi-Cal unless under 21 years old or pregnant
  • Federal SNAP/CalFresh (food stamps)
  • Federal public housing/Section 8.

*Note: Most immigrants who face a Public Charge test are not eligible for these benefits. Immigrants with additional questions should talk to a lawyer.


Q. What if some people in my family get public benefits, and others do not?

A. The new Public Charge rule focuses on the person applying for a Green Card through a family-based petition. It does not consider benefits used by their family members. Most immigrants who are applying for a Green Card through a family-based petition are not eligible for the benefits listed in the public charge rule.


Q. What if someone will have an interview at the consulate? How does Public Charge affect them?

A. Courts have ordered that consulate officers may not use the new Public Charge rules for interviews outside the U.S. The officers should only ask about the listed benefits used by the applying immigrant. Most immigrants who are applying for a Green Card through a family-based petition are not eligible for the benefits on the list under either rule. The officers will also look at other factors – income, education, skills, age, health and family situation, including the relationship between the immigrant and the sponsor.


Q. How do I know if public benefits or Public Charge could affect my immigration options?

A. Use the Public Charge Guide to learn more about different situations.


Q. Do I qualify for government benefits?

A. Each benefit has different rules about income and immigration status. If you need help for food, health care, cash, or housing for you and your family, find out more at https://www.cdss.ca.gov/Benefits-Services.

If you live in San Mateo County, contact LIBRE for a consultation.

Find Help: Enter your zip code and get a list of immigration legal services

More Resources

Here is more information from our partners at Protecting Immigrant Families, the State of California, and other experts:

Do Public Benefits Affect Immigration Options? Use the Guide to find out.

Our Partners