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Public Charge Explained

"Public Charge" makes people afraid to use public benefits. But the Public Charge Rule does not affect every immigration application. And most immigrants who face a Public Charge test do not receive the benefits that count.

This article will explain:

  • What is Public Charge
  • What benefits are included in the rule
  • Who is affected by the rule and who is not

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

About the Public Charge Rule

When someone applies for a Green Card through family, the immigration officials can deny the application for different reasons. One reason is if the government thinks the person is likely to depend too much on public benefits in the future. This is called the Public Charge Rule.

The immigration officer will consider the immigrant's:

  • Health
  • Age
  • Income/resources
  • Education and skills
  • Family support and sponsor
  • Use of some kinds of public benefits

The officer weighs all these factors. The officer decides if the person is "likely to become a Public Charge." They consider positive factors, like a job or skills. They consider negative factors, like low income or health problems. They can deny the application if they think the person will depend too much on public benefits in the future.

Public Charge Rule Updates

November 5, 2020:

There are two sets of Public Charge regulations: one for decisions about immigration applications processed inside the U.S. by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and one for immigration decisions made outside the U.S. (at embassies or consular offices abroad) by the State Department (DoS). Different court cases are challenging the two sets of regulations.

Right now, for applications that have a Public Charge test, USCIS is using the February 24, 2020 regulation for applications submitted from that date on. DoS is using the prior policy.

Public Benefits are part of the Public Charge Rule

Only these public benefits obtained for the immigrant are in the Public Charge Rule.

  • accessibility

    For applications filed before February 24, 2020:

    • Cash benefits
      - SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
      - TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
      - GA (General Assistance/Relief)
    • Medicaid for long-term (nursing home) care

  • people

    For applications filed on or after February 24, 2020:

    • Cash assistance
      - SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
      - TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
      - GA (General Assistance/Relief)
    • AND these benefits, if received on or after February 24, 2020*:
      - Federally funded, Non-Emergency Medicaid unless under 21 years old or pregnant
      - Federal SNAP (food stamps)
      - Federal housing/Section 8

    *Note: Most immigrants who face a Public Charge test aren't eligible for these benefits. For more information, talk to a legal aid lawyer.

Who is Affected by the Public Charge Rule?

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    It does not apply to:

    • U.S. Citizens

    • Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) applying for citizenship or card renewals

    • Refugees: people applying for refugee status, or for a Green Card as a refugee

    • Asylum: people applying for asylum, or for a Green Card as an Asylee

    • TPS: people applying for initial or re-registration of Temporary Protected Status

    • DACA: people applying to renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

    • SIJS: people applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or applying for a Green Card thru SIJS

    • U Visa: people applying for a U visa or U visa holders applying for a Green Card

    • T Visa: people applying for a T visa and T visa holders applying for a Green Card

    • VAWA: people applying for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and people with VAWA who are applying for a Green Card

    • People applying for withholding of removal or under the Convention Against Torture

    • Cubans applying under the Cuban Adjustment Act; Amerasians who are applying for admission

    • SIV: Afghan and Iraqi interpreters and translators who are applying for special immigrant visas

    • Registry: People applying for registry (lived in the U.S. since before January 1, 1972)

    • NACARA: People applying for Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act benefits

    • HRIFA: People applying for Haitian Relief and Immigrant Fairness Act (HRIFA) benefits

    • Lautenberg parolees

    • Certain other "humanitarian" immigrants

    Source: Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

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    It does apply to:

    • Immigrants applying for Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card) through a family-based petition.

    • Lawful Permanent Residents who leave the U.S. for more than 6 months and seek to re-enter the U.S.

    • A slightly different rule applies to some "non-immigrants" applying to change or extend their student visas (example: student visas).

What are the changes to the Public Charge Rule?

The government changed the Public Charge rule in 2020. Court cases are challenging the rules. But, the new rules are in effect.

These factors will apply if you:

  • Apply for a Green Card through a family-based petition on or after February 24, 2020; or
  • Have a Green Card and leave the U.S. for more than 6 months

If you are not sure about your situation, use the Public Charge Guide. The guide will help you understand if Public Charge or using public benefits could affect your immigration plans.

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