What is Public Charge

What is Public Charge?

Public charge means an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. It applies to an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to that of a permanent residence (Green Card). Officers will determine if the individual, “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.” A number of factors must be considered when making a determination that a person is likely to become a public charge.


October 15, 2019. Applies to public benefits availed on or after that date.

How is It determined If Public Charge or Not:

Determined by the ‘totality of the circumstances test’. Adjudicating officer must weigh both the positive and negative factors when determining the likelihood that someone might become a public charge. This includes your age, health, income, assets, resources, education/skills, family you must support, and family who will support you. Positive factors, like having a job or health insurance, can be weighed against negative factors, like having used certain benefits or having a chronic illness. Either way, you will have a chance to show why you are not likely to rely on certain benefits in the future. The officer may also consider any affidavit of support filed on behalf of the individual. 

In assessing the totality of the circumstances, including the statutory factors above, an officer may consider the individual’s receipt of certain publicly funded benefits. Not all publicly funded benefits are relevant to deciding whether someone is likely to become a public charge. When determining whether someone is likely to become a public charge, USCIS will consider whether the individual is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Short-term institutionalization for rehabilitation is not subject to public charge consideration under existing field guidance. Non-cash benefits that USCIS does not consider are discussed in greater detail below.

What Benefits lead to Public Charge Determination:

Public benefits that are received by one member of a family are also not attributed to other family members for public charge purposes unless the cash benefits amount to the sole support of the family. This public charge test does not consider benefits used by family members. Most immigrants who are applying for lawful permanent residence are not eligible for the benefits listed in the rule. And, benefits used by eligible family members are not counted unless the family members are also applying for permanent residence.
The rule does not consider health, nutrition, and housing benefits that are used before October 15, 2019. Benefits that were previously excluded from the public charge test (such as Medicaid and SNAP) will be considered only if they are received after October 15, 2019. The new rule applies only to people whose application for permanent residence was filed (postmarked or submitted electronically) on or after October 15, 2019. Using benefits now can help you or your family members become healthier, stronger, and more employable in the future.

Mainly, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Social Security Act

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance (Note: Non-cash benefits under TANF such as subsidized childcare or transit subsidies cannot be considered and non-recurrent cash payments for crisis situations cannot be considered for evidence of public charge)
  • State and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance” programs)
  • Programs (including Medicaid) supporting individuals who are institutionalized for long-term care (e.g., in a nursing home or mental health institution). (Note: costs of incarceration for prison are not considered for public charge determinations)

This is not an exhaustive list of the types of cash benefits that could lead to a determination that a person is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, and thus, a public charge. Receipt of any such cash benefits not listed above will continue to be assessed under the “totality of the circumstances” analysis described above.

What Benefits lead Are NOT Public Charge benefits

Non-cash benefits (other than institutionalization for long-term care) are generally not taken into account for purposes of a public charge determination. Special-purpose cash assistance is also generally not taken into account for purposes of public charge determination. Non-cash or special purpose cash benefits that are not considered for public charge purposes include:

  • Medicaid and other health insurance and health services (including public assistance for immunizations and for testing and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases; use of health clinics, short-term rehabilitation services, and emergency medical services) other than support for long-term institutional care
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Nutrition programs, including Food Stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program, and other supplementary and emergency food assistance programs
  • Housing benefits
  • Childcare services
  • Energy assistance, such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Emergency disaster relief
  • Foster care and adoption assistance
  • Educational assistance (such as attending public school), including benefits under the Head Start Act and aid for elementary, secondary, or higher education
  • Job training programs
  • In-kind, community-based programs, services, or assistance (such as soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and short-term shelter)

State and local programs that are similar to the federal programs listed above are also generally not considered for public charge purposes. 

Who Does Public Charge Apply to:

For benefits adjudicated by USCIS, whether a person is likely to become a public charge is usually considered when someone is trying to become a permanent resident (get a Green Card). It is also considered when someone applies for certain non-immigrant or other temporary benefits, for example by extending non-immigrant status within the United States. This public charge inadmissibility test does not apply to every immigrant. Exempt immigrants include: refugees; asylees; survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders); VAWA self-petitioners; special immigrant juveniles; and certain people paroled into the U.S. Benefits received when people are in one of these statuses will not be counted against them. And lawful permanent residents (people with green cards) are not subject to a public charge test when they apply for U.S. citizenship.
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