Understanding Public Charge


"Public Charge" makes people afraid to use public benefits. But the Public Charge rule does not affect every immigration application.

This article will help you understand:

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


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
  • 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 Benefits are Part of the Public Charge Rule

Only these public benefits used by the immigrant are in the Public Charge rule:

  • Cash benefits  
    • SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
    • CalWORKs/TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families)
    • CAPI (Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants)
    • GA (General Assistance/Relief)
  • Medi-Cal/Medicaid for long-term (nursing home) care   


The U.S. State Department uses different rules for interviews outside the U.S. The consulate officer can look at additional benefits. In the future, the State Department plans to add only these other benefits:

  • Federally-funded CalFresh/SNAP (food stamps)
  • Federally-funded public housing/Section 8 assistance
  • Federally-funded Medi-Cal/Medicaid, unless it’s for emergency services, children under 21 years old, or pregnant women (+60 days).

Talk to a qualified lawyer if you have questions about your own case. Most immigrants who face the Public Charge test don’t qualify for federal benefits. (except State-funded Medi-Cal/Medicaid is safe.) However, other changes may make it harder to pass the Public Charge test.


Who is Affected by the Public Charge Rule

The Public Charge rule mostly affects people who are:

  • applying for a Green card (Permanent Residence) with a family-based petition.
  • Permanent Residents who traveled outside the U.S. for more than six months.

A slightly different rule applies to some "nonimmigrants" applying to change or extend their status. Example: student visas.


Who is Not Affected by the Public Charge Rule

The rule does not affect:

  • Citizens
  • 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 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and people with VAWA who are applying for a Green card
  • People applying for withholding of removal or Convention Against Torture benefits
  • 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.


What are the Changes to the Public Charge Rule?

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced changes to the Public Charge rule. The courts have halted the changes.

Note: the State Department uses different rules for immigrants who have their interview outside the U.S. The State Department rules make it harder for low-income applicants to pass the Public Charge test. The consulate officer looks at more benefits. These rules may change soon. Talk to a qualified lawyer or check www.protectingimmigrantfamilies.org.

Learn More

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

Do Public Benefits Affect Immigration Options?

Answer a few questions to see if public benefits affect different immigration options. The guide is safe and private. There are no personal questions. The results can help you decide what is best for you and your family.

Find Help

Go to the list of providers on the California state website to find legal help with your benefits.

Enter your zip code, to find legal help for an immigration application or case.

To report a problem or provide feedback about this site, contact us at info@keepyourbenefits.org