Public Charge Rule

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In General

The U.S. requires that foreign nationals be self-sufficient. Individuals who are unable to care for themselves and are likely to become a public charge are inadmissible to the U.S.

What is a public charge?

A public charge is someone who receives one or more public benefits for 12 months in total during the span of a 36-month period. Under this rule, receiving four public benefits in one month would count as four months.

Who does the rule apply to?

The public charge rule applies to applicants for (1) admission or adjustment of status to that of a lawful resident and (2) extension of nonimmigrant stay or change of nonimmigrant status.

The rule does not apply to refugees, asylees, certain U and T nonimmigrant visa applicants, certain special juvenile immigrants, Afghans and Iraqis with special immigrant visas, and certain petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

What factors do officers look at in determining whether someone will become a public charge?

Officers determine admissibility by weighing the following factors:

  • Age and health
  • Assets, resources, and finances
  • Education and skills
  • Family status
  • Prospective immigration status
  • Expected period of admission
  • Sufficient Affidavit of Support

Generally, a foreign national who is younger, well-educated, and has financial backing is less likely to become a public charge than one who is older, unskilled, and with limited resources.

What public benefits are considered for under the public charge rule?

Public benefits that are considered:

  • Federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance for income
    • Includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and other cash benefit programs
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps)
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
    • Includes Moderate Rehabilitation
  • Public housing under Section 9 of the Housing act of 1937
  • Most forms of federally funded Medicaid

Public benefits that are not considered:

  • Certain Medicaid benefits for
    • Emergency medical conditions
    • Aliens under the age of 21
    • Pregnant women and by women within a 60-day period beginning on the last day of their pregnancy
    • Services or benefits provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    • School based services or benefits for individuals who are at or below the age of secondary school eligibility
  • Emergency medical assistance
  • Disaster relief
  • Energy Assistance
  • National school lunch programs
  • Supplemental Nutrition Programs for Women, Infants, and Children
  • Food pantries and homelessness shelters
  • Government subsidized student and mortgage loans
  • Subsidies for foster care and adoption
  • Head Start

For example, if a foreign national who is pregnant or just had a child and is receiving WIC, those benefits will not be taken into account for a public charge consideration. However, if the same foreign national receives SNAP and Section 8 Housing in one month, those benefits will account for two months of receipt of public benefits for a public charge consideration.

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