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, Section 8, and Medi-Cal/Medicaid.

Q. What is "Public Charge"?

A. Public Charge is a rule for some people applying for 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. A "public charge" is someone who depends too much on public benefits. 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.

Not everyone is affected by the Public Charge rules, 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
  • 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.

It's OK for anyone who qualifies to get these benefits: 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); and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit. For more information, click here.

These benefits are already in the Public Charge test: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), CalWORKs/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), CAPI, and state general relief or general assistance, and 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 yrs old or pregnant, Federal SNAP/CalFresh (food stamps), Federal housing/Section 8.

Note: Most immigrants who face a public charge test don't get these benefits. Check with a lawyer if you have questions.

People who apply for a Green card through a family petition and who have to go to a U.S. consulate for their interview face the new public charge test now.

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 petition. It does not consider benefits used by their family members. Most immigrants who are applying for a Green card through a family petition are not eligible for the benefits listed in the rule.

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

A. The consulate officers may use the new rules for interviews outside the U.S. as of 2/24/2020.  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 petition are not eligible for the listed benefits.  But, the officers will be looking more closely at the other factors -- income, skills, age, and health.

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

A. Use the 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

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

Sources: Protecting Immigrant Families



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


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.

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.