12. Public Charge

Last Update: August 2019

We do not accept consultations on immigration law, so please be sure to check the latest information / forms on the USCIS website and with experts such as immigration lawyer

“Public charge” or the “public charge test” is used by immigration officials to decide whether a person can enter the U.S. or get a green card (lawful permanent resident or “LPR” status). In this test, officials look at all of a person’s circumstances, including income, employment, health, education or skills, family situation and whether a sponsor signed a contract (“affidavit of support”) promising to support the person. Officials can also look at whether a person has used certain benefit programs (in the past, only cash assistance and long-term care were counted).

The government is changing how it makes public charge decisions. Immigration officials will look more closely at factors like health, age, income, skills (including English language skills), and use of more public programs, including:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, “EBT” or “Food Stamps”)
    • Federal Public Housing and Section 8 assistance
    • Medicaid (except for emergency services, children under 21 years, pregnant women, and new mothers)
    • Cash assistance programs (like SSI, TANF, General Assistance)

*Services that are not listed above will not be counted in the new public charge test. This includes WIC, CHIP, school lunches, food banks, shelters, and many more

The new changes will not be used by immigration officials until October 15, and will apply only to applications that are postmarked or submitted electronically on or after October 15. If you are applying for a green card in the U.S. right now, use of the non-cash benefits listed above will not be counted in a public charge test.
• The rule will also not count any programs (other than cash or long-term care) used before October 15, 2019. You still have time to make a decision about whether or not to stay enrolled in critical public programs.
• Programs used by your U.S. citizen children will not be used against you.

It will not affect the citizenship applicants and Green Card renewal. Green Card holders are not impacted either, however, if you plan to leave the country for more than 6 months, it is a good idea to talk with an immigration attorney.

It is possible that the rule will be blocked or delayed further with legal challenges.

If you have any concerns or questions regarding public charge, please contact immigration hotline (Free).

  • New American Hotline managed by Catholic Charities Community Services (1-800-566-7636)
  • ActionNYC (1-800-354-0365)

For more information:

NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Protecting Immigrant Families – Getting Help You Need

USCIS