Immigration and Revised ‘Public Charge’ Rule

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2/21 For the most current updates on the “Public Charge” Rule – Visit the Immigrant Legal Resource Center site here:   

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 “public charge”. Instead of a public charge meaning someone likely to become primarily dependent on the government for income support, the new rule defines a public charge as a person who receives certain 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. The list of public benefits used to determine whether someone is a public charge has also been expanded to include most forms of Medicaid, food stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, housing assistance, and a few others.  Additionally, immigration officials will consider factors such as English proficiency, medical conditions, education, income, and age when determining public charge status.

When does the new public charge rule apply? The new public charge rule is currently scheduled to take effect on October 15, 2019.  USCIS will use the new rule to determine whether a person is a public charge if, on or after this date, a non-citizen attempts to:

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 lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders.  A non-citizen subject to the public charge rule is not impacted if his or her child, spouse, or other family member who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder receives public benefits.  There are many other individuals who are also exempt from the public charge rule, including, but not limited to:

What programs count towards public charge determination? Programs that provide cash assistance like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, known in Connecticut as TFA), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and State Administered General Assistance (SAGA) , as well as SNAP/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.

Is the rule retroactive? Benefits previously excluded from the public charge determination (all forms of Medicaid except long-term care coverage, SNAP, and housing assistance), will be considered only if those benefits are received after the effective date of the rule.

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 is concerned 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