Public Charge: All you need to know & latest updates!

September 21, 2022
Immigration, Rights

In August 2019, the Trump Administration introduced the “public charge” rule and in the time since then, a lot has changed. Many organizations fought this law and in September 2022 a new public charge regulation was introduced by the Biden Administration. This resource breaks down what Public Charge is and what the new updates can mean for immigrant families.

Thank you to our national partners, Protecting Immigrant Families, for all the resources and information we share below.

What is Public Charge?

Some people who apply for a green card (Lawful Permanent Resident status) or a visa to enter
the U.S. must pass a “public charge” test, which looks at whether they are likely to depend
primarily on the government for support in the future.

Immigration officials look at a person’s whole situation, including their age, income, health,
education or skills, and family situation. This includes whether a family member or another
person with enough income or resources has promised to support you. Only 2 kinds of public
benefits are considered in the public charge test:

  1. Cash assistance programs that provide on-going payments. Examples include “SSI,”
    “TANF,” and “General Assistance.”
  2. Long-term institutional care, like a nursing home, at government expense.

It’s important that you continue to seek what’s necessary for you and your families well-being. The following government programs will not affect your immigration status and
immigration application:

  • Medicaid and other health care (except long-term institutional care)
  • CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • SNAP food assistance
  • WIC
  • Free or reduced school lunches
  • Food banks or free meals
  • COVID testing, treatment and vaccines
  • Pandemic economic impact payments (stimulus checks)
  • Earned income and child tax credits
  • Section 8 and Public Housing
  • Shelters

Does Public Charge apply to me?

Public charge does not apply to everyone. People seeking a green card through a family member or who seek to enter the US from outside the country may be subject to this test. Many immigrants are exempt from public charge. Below is an explanation of specific circumstances.

  • Are you and your family members U.S. citizens? Public charge does NOT apply to you. You should continue to use programs you are eligible for.
  • Do you and your family members already have green cards? Public charge does NOT apply to you when you renew your green card or apply to become a U.S. Citizen. However, it may apply if you leave the country for more than 6 months. Talk with an immigration attorney if you are planning to take a long trip outside the U.S.
  • Are you applying for or do you have one of the following statuses: TPS, U or T Visa, Asylum or Refugee status, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status? Public charge does NOT apply to you. If you already have or are in the process of applying for one of these immigration statuses, you can use any government programs that you qualify for.
  • Do you plan to apply for a family-based green card? Public charge may apply. Your income, age, health, education, skills, family situation, and sponsor’s affidavit of support will be considered to see if you are likely to become a public charge in the future. The only kinds of benefits considered in a public charge test are: cash assistance programs that provide on-going payments to the person applying (not their child or other family member, unless it is the applicant’s only income), and long-term institutional care like in a nursing home paid for by the government. Speak to a knowledgeable immigration attorney before submitting any immigration-related application.

Latest updates & impact on our immigrant communities

In September 2022, the Biden Administration finalized a new public charge regulation increasing protections for immigrant families. This is a major win for immigrant families in our broader fight to repeal provisions in immigration law that discriminate against low-income people of color. The new rule will become effective on December 23, 2022.

What does the new rule mean?

It adds critical protections for immigrant families.

  • It clarifies that:
    • A child’s or other family member’s use of federal safety net programs never affects the applicant’s immigration application
    • Medicaid is safe for eligible immigrant families to use for any other health care need except for long-term use of institutional care
    • SNAP, WIC, the Child Tax Credit, Section 8, and other “non-cash” federal programs (and state- and locally-funded versions of those programs) never affect immigration applications
    • Many cash programs will not affect immigration applications: unemployment programs, LIHEAP, pandemic relief, veterans benefits and more.
    • DHS can consider use of use of SSI, TANF, and state and local cash assistance for income maintenance. However, DHS will take into account how long the benefit was received and how recently, along with other factors like an individual’s education and skills, income, and affidavit of support in making a determination.
  • It helpfully lists the categories of non-citizens who are exempt from a public charge determination, including people applying for or granted asylum, refugee status, or TPS; Special Immigrant Juveniles; and Afghan or Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa holders. VAWA self- petitioners, and survivors who have applied for or been granted T or U status are generally exempt from a public charge assessment, regardless of their ultimate pathway to adjust status. People applying for US citizenship are not subject to public charge.
  • It confirms that eligible immigrant families can use health care, nutrition, and housing programs without public charge concerns, and
  • It makes it harder for future presidents to radically change public charge policy

What comes next?

It is likely that the public charge regulation will be challenged in court but there are solid grounds for the court to keep the rule in place. 

We need your help to protect immigrant families and the country.

You can protect immigrant families by sharing accurate baseline information: eligible immigrant families can use most healthcare and social service programs with no public charge consequences. 

We also must continue to push our elected leaders to repeal the immigration law’s public charge provision as it is inherently racist. The public charge provision has been around since 1882, enacted alongside the Chinese Exclusion Act, has been biased since the beginning against low-income immigrants of color, and no reform can change that. 

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