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 All Kids, Moms & Babies, Health Benefit for Immigrant Seniors (HBIS), Health Benefit for Immigrant Adults (HBIA), VTTC food, cash, medical program, SNAP (food stamps), TANF, Public housing, and Section 8.
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 six months or longer at one time, 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 or VAWA status, even if they apply for a Green Card through a family-based petition.
- 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
Enrollment in the following Illinois benefits is not counted in the public charge test (see this link for a longer list of safe benefits):
- Enrollment in Medicaid and Medicaid-like programs such as VTTC Medical, Health Benefit for Immigrant Adult (HBIA) and Health Benefit for Immigrant Seniors (HBIS), All Kids, Moms & Babies, and ACA Adult Medicaid;
- Charity care and hospital financial assistance programs, health care from community health centers, COVID testing, treatment and vaccines
- Home and community-based services; rehabilitation services even if paid for by Medicaid.
- SNAP food assistance
- Free or reduced school meals
- Food banks or free meals
- Section 8 and Public Housing
- Shelters and rental assistance
- Earned income and child tax credits and other tax credits
- LIHEAP and other energy assistance
See this link for a longer list of "safe" benefits.
Only these benefits obtained for the immigrant are considered in the Public Charge Test:
- Cash assistance:*
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Illinois Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (IL TANF)
- General Assistance from an Illinois county or township
- Other non-disaster relief cash assistance for income maintenance programs. Click here for more information.
- Use of Medicaid for long-term, ongoing institution facility-based care, like a nursing home paid for by Medicaid.
*Note: Most immigrants who face a Public Charge test are not eligible for cash 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 Public Charge rule focuses on the person applying for a Green Card through a family-based petition. 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.
It does not consider benefits used by their family members.
Q. What if someone will have an interview at the consulate? How does Public Charge affect them?
A. The rules should be the same as the rules for people interviewing at U.S.C.I.S. offices.
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.icirr.org (for many food, nutrition, cash, and health benefits) or getcareillinois.org (health coverage)