Immigration and Revised ‘Public Charge’ Rule

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On August 14, 2019, a new public charge rule was published by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The new rule is scheduled to go into effect on October 15, 2019, but may be delayed by the courts due to legal challenges. Regardless, the new rule is not retroactive so receipt of public benefits prior to the effective date will not be considered.

What is a ‘public charge’? A public charge has historically been defined as a person likely to become primarily dependent on the government for financial and material support.  Under current immigration law, an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to permanent resident (i.e. obtain a green card) may be denied if the individual is determined likely to become a public charge.

What does the new rule change? The new rule redefines the definition of a public charge. Instead of a public charge being defined as someone likely to become primarily dependent on the government for income support, the new rule defines a public charge as a person who receives any number of public benefits for more than 12 months over a 36-month period. Receiving two benefits in one month counts as two months of benefits towards the 12-month limit. Programs considered public benefits have now been expanded to include Medicaid, food stamps/SNAP, housing assistance, and others. Additionally, immigration officials will now begin to consider factors such as English proficiency, medical conditions, education, income, and age when determining public charge status.

Who is affected? Many immigrant families will remain eligible for needed services and will not be legally impacted by the changes to the public charge rule. Below are the two categories of individuals who may be impacted:

Who is NOT affected? Most importantly, this rule only applies to the individual seeking status change and not to family members who are U.S. citizens or green card holders. Children, spouses, or other family members who are U.S. citizens or green card holders can continue to receive public benefits without it impacting the intending immigrant’s public charge status. There are many other individuals who are also exempt from the public charge rule, including:

What programs count towards public charge determination? Programs that provide cash assistance like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), SSI (Supplemental Security Income), and SAGA (State Administered General Assistance, as well as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Food Stamps), public housing, Section 8 housing and rental assistance, and many adult Medicaid programs.

What programs do NOT count towards public charge determination? Medicaid for children under age 21 and pregnant/post-partum women, Medicaid for emergency medical services, emergency disaster relief, energy assistance programs, child care subsidies, Head Start and other public education programs, school lunch and breakfast programs, WIC, school-based health services, and others.

How can immigrants get help to determine if they are impacted by the new rule? Most immigrants will not be impacted by this rule change. However, if an individual does believe the rule applies to them, they should contact an immigration law specialist to receive additional guidance before making any decisions about cancelling benefits. Individuals can contact the following statewide organizations for individualized guidance or, for a list of local organizations, click here.

Additional Community Resources

We encourage individuals to be aware of available safety net programs that provide free groceries and meals, help with utility bills, and other basic needs.


SOURCE: National Immigration Law Center (NILC); U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Immigrant Legal Resource Center