What You Need to Know about Public Charge Rule and Public Benefits

Public benefits are an incredibly important support to individuals and families working hard to make ends meet, but many people feel fear and hesitation that applying for public benefits could effect their immigration process. Knowing which public benefit programs you can apply for without it effecting the public charge rule can help you make decisions for you and your family with more confidence. 

It is true that public charge grounds of inadmissibility can be used to deny people applying for green cards or visas based on how likely the government thinks it is that this person will become a “public charge.” 

The government considers someone to be a “public charge” if they think that the individual is dependent on the government for income and other support.

Since 1999, government support that can make someone a “public charge” has included:

  • GA (General Assistance)
  • SSI (Social Security)
  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
  • Long term Medical Assistance (if one of the cash assistance programs was only source of income)

New rules expand the benefits that will make someone a public charge. Under the new rules, MA, SNAP, and Section 8 housing subsidies can make someone a public charge.

  • Medical Assistance
    • EXCEPTIONS: prenatal MA, emergency MA, MA for kids under 21, and GA MA
  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
  • Section 8 housing subsidies

When making a decision about public charge, the government will look at age, income, whether someone has health insurance, education, employment, English proficiency, and affidavits of support. Note: Affidavits of support will not carry as much weight as it used to.

Green card holders who leave the U.S. for more than six months may be subject to public charge. 

People with certain types of immigration status will not judged with the public charge rule. Who shouldn’t worry about public charge: 

  • Green card holders
  • Citizens
  • People applying for refugee or asylee status
  • U/T visa holders
  • DACA recipients
  • TPS recipients
  • VAWA self-petitioners
  • People with Special Immigration Juvenile status. 

You are only subject to public charge for the public benefits that you get. If your family members are getting public benefits, they will not affect you. 

  • Support which will not make someone a public charge:
    • Medical Assistance for:
      • Children under 21
      • Pregnant adults
      • Emergency medical conditions
      • Some very low income adults (state MA)
    • CHIP
    • Marketplace subsidies
    • Recovery Rebate
    • Community health clinics
    • Charity Care
    • Prescription assistance programs
    • Unemployment Compensation
    • Workers Compensation
    • EITC
    • WIC
    • School lunch
    • Food cupboards/pantries
    • Utility assistance programs (e.g. LIHEAP)
    • Shelters
    • Domestic violence services

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