Public Charge

*Updated September 3, 2019*

The information on this page is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.

About the "Public Charge" Issue

On August 14, 2019, the Trump Administration finalized a major change to government policy related to what is called a "public charge" inadmissibility test for people applying for a green card or seeking to enter the United States. This test is designed to determine whether a person is likely to become a "public charge," or a person who is dependent on the government as their main source of support in the future. The newly revised "public charge" test includes two basic assessments: one is known as a "totality of circumstances" assessment and the other examines whether you receive certain federally funded public assistance programs.

Here is how it works:

When seeking a visa to enter the U.S. or when applying for a green card, an immigration officer assesses whether a person will be deemed a "public charge" in the future. The "totality of circumstances" assessment considers the person's age, health, family status, income and resources, education and skills. The new rule adds specific standards to each of these factors, including a minimum income threshold, consideration of credit scores and history, and even an English proficiency standard. The rule also expands the public assistance programs that may be  counted in a "public  charge" determination.

This policy change is not yet in effect. The effective date is October 15, 2019. However, this may be delayed by litigation:

  1. August 13: Two California counites (Santa Clara and San Francisco) file a lawsuit against the Trump administration's "public charge" rule seeking a temporary injunction in federal court in the Northern District of California.
  2. August 14: Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson leads a 13-state coalition (Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Washington State) in filing another lawsuit, also seeking a temporary injunction. Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a statement supporting the lawsuit.
  3. August 16: The State of California joined by Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia file a lawsuit, also seeking a temporary injunction.
  4. August 16: A number of California-based advocacy groups that serve immigrants file a lawsuit, also seeking a temporary injunction.
  5. August 20: New York Attorney General Letitia James leads a three-state coalition (Connecticut, Vermont, and New York) in filing a lawsuit against the federal agencies who would be implementing and enforcing the "public charge" rule.
  6. August 27: A number of New York-based advocacy groups that serve immigrants file a lawsuit.

See the FAQ below for more detailed information.

 

Public Charge FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

DISCLAIMER:
This FAQ or "Frequently Asked Questions" section contains general information, and is not legal advice. If you have questions about your particular status or use of benefits, you should speak with an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative. You can find a lawyer through the American Immigration Lawyers Association here.

  1. What is a "public charge?"
    The federal government uses the term "public charge" as a label for an immigrant who is primarily dependent on the government to meet his or her basic needs.
  2. When does the federal government determine if you are likely to become a public charge?
    The federal government applies a public charge test when a person applies to enter the U.S. or when a person applies to become a green card holder (also known as "lawful permanent residency"), among other circumstances.

    When you apply for a visa or green card, you must submit an application form. Using the information from the form and from the following interview, the government will decide if you are likely to become a "public charge."

    This specific test is not used when a person who already has a green card is applying to become a U.S. citizen.
  3. How does the federal government decide if you are likely to become a public charge or are already a public charge?
    Under the final rule, the public charge decision is based on two main factors. The immigration officer conducts a "totality of circumstances" test. This test examines the applicant's age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills. In other words, the government must look at your individual circumstances as a whole to decide if you are likely to depend on public benefits in the future.

    In addition, the immigration officer will label you a public charge if you are currently receiving any one of the below benefits or have for 12 months within the last 3 years received any one of the below benefits:

    1. Cash assistance programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which helps people with limited income and who have disabilities, are blind, or are age 65 or older; or other similar state, local, or tribal programs.

    2. Medicaid (with exceptions for emergency services, coverage of children under age 21, and pregnant women)

    3. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called "Food Stamps".

    4. Federal rental housing assistance, such as Section 8 housing vouchers and any housing funded by Project Based Section 8.

  4. Under the new proposal, what programs are excluded from the new criteria to be considered a public charge?
    Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Disaster relief; emergency medical assistance; entirely state, local, or tribal programs (other than cash assistance); benefits received by immigrant's family members; or any other benefit not specifically listed in the final rule. Benefits not listed, such as education, child development, and employment and job training programs are also excluded.

    Any local City of Seattle program such as the Utility Discount Program and Seattle Preschool Program will not be considered.

    Go here to see the many Seattle programs that you may be eligible for, regardless of your immigration status.
  5. What if I already have a green card and am receiving benefits?
    Under the final rule, you cannot lose your green card just because you, your child, or other family members lawfully use benefits. And, you cannot be denied U.S. citizenship for lawfully receiving benefits.
  6. What if my family members use health care, nutrition, education, or other programs?
    Generally, the federal government will only consider benefits received by you as the applicant, not your family members. If the new rule goes into effect, the federal government will not consider your children's use of non-cash benefits (such as health insurance or food stamps) in your own application for a green card or to enter the U.S. However, the number of children you have, including U.S. citizen children, may be considered as part of the totality of circumstances assessment in the public charge determination, because it affects household size.

    We recommend you speak with an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative about your case.
  7. What if I used these benefits in the past and am no longer receiving benefits?
    The public charge test is forward-looking, which means that the test is not solely based on what happened in the past. If you previously received benefits, but your situation has changed, you may be able to show that you will not need those services now or in the future (for example, if you have a new job).

    If you have questions about your particular status or use of benefits, you should speak with an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative.
  8. Does public charge apply to all immigrants?
    No! The public charge test is not applied to green card holders in their applications to become U.S. citizens. Also, certain humanitarian immigrants are either exempt from the public charge test or can qualify for a public charge waiver. This includes:
    • Refugees
    • Asylees (immigrants who are applying for or were granted asylum)
    • People applying for a green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
    • People who have or are applying for U visas or T visas
    • Children seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
    If you fall under any of these categories, you can use ANY benefits for which you are eligible. This includes cash aid, health care, food programs, and other non-cash programs.
  9. What if I am a U.S. citizen and am receiving benefits?
    Public charge does not apply to U.S. citizens. If you are a U.S. citizen receiving benefits, you should continue receiving the benefits for which you are eligible.
  10. Should I stop the benefits we are receiving now?
    NO! If you or your family are getting benefits to go to the doctor, pay for food, or pay rent, you do not need to stop your benefits based on the policy. The final rule is NOT yet in effect. It will not be in effect for months. The final rule will not be applied retroactively, which means the government will not consider a person's use of a newly-added benefit (e.g., including non-emergency Medicaid for non-pregnant adults, SNAP, and federal rental housing assistance) prior to the effective date of the rule.

    However, for benefits that are already part of the public charge determination, such as TANF, SSI, and long-term institutionalization, the government will consider usage prior to the effective date of the rule. Speak to an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative with specific questions.
  11. What if I receive a benefit that's not listed?
    Only the benefits listed in the final rule (see Question 3) may be considered. Benefits not listed, such as education, child development, free and reduced school lunch, and employment and job training programs, are not part of the public charge test.

    Any local city program such as the Utility Discount Program and Seattle Preschool Program will not be considered.

    Go here to see the many Seattle programs that you may be eligible for, regardless of your immigration status.
  12. Can I be deported as a public charge?
    Under current law, in extremely rare circumstances, a person who has become a public charge could be deported. These rules are very narrow and have almost never been applied. This new rule does not interpret or expand the criteria for removal or deportability.
  13. How will the new proposal affect individuals with disabilities?
    Under the final rule, a person's health is one of many factors the government would consider in determining whether a person is likely to become a public charge. This includes physical or mental health conditions that could limit a person's ability to work, attend school, or care for herself. However, the final rule also states that changes will not apply to benefits (other than cash assistance or long-term care) that you received before the rule is final.

    We recommend you speak with an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative about your case.
  14. I have my green card and need to renew it soon. Can the government deny my renewal application because I am receiving Medicaid, food stamps, and/or housing assistance?
    No. The public charge test does not apply when you renew a green card. The renewal application cannot be denied based on your use of programs you are eligible for.
  15. Can naturalized U.S. citizens lose their citizenship if they use programs like Medicaid or SNAP/Food Stamps?
    No! U.S. citizens cannot lose their citizenship based on their lawful use of public benefits.

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Other Updated Public Charge Resources

General Information (National)

Train the Trainer (for advocates and service providers)

Legal

Health Care

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City of Seattle's Actions Opposing the Public Charge Rule

Image of 1,100 public comments from Seattle.December 10, 2018
The public comment period for the public charge Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) closes. Individuals across the U.S. submitted 216,102 comments on the proposed rule, far surpassing the original goal of 100,000 comments. OIRA and the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) Washington Coalition worked together to inform community members about this proposal and gathered over 1,100 comments, which helped PIF-WA reach their goal of 4,000 public comments.

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Seattle City Council submitted a public comment opposed to the rule on behalf of the City of Seattle. She also signed onto a multi-city legal comment drafted by the City of Chicago and City of New York. The mayor also signed onto Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's public comment with King County Executive Dow Constantine. Multiple other City departments also submitted public comments, including the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Office of Sustainability and Environment, and Office of Housing.

October 10, 2018
The public charge Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is posted to the Federal Register. The City of Seattle signs onto a statement with over 1,500 other cities and organizations opposing the proposed public charge regulation and is participating in the nationwide goal of 100,000 public comments to the Federal Register. The goal for the state of Washington is 4,000 public comments. The comment period started this day and closed on Monday, December 10, 2018.

October 5, 2018
The public charge Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is posted for public inspection. This is the step before it is officially published in the Federal Register and the comment period starts. It indicates that the NPRM will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, October 10.

October 3, 2018
Mayor Jenny A. Durkan signs onto a U.S. Conference of Mayor's statement opposing the proposed change to the public charge immigration rule.

September 25, 2018
The City of Seattle joins with over 1,000 organizations nationwide to oppose the proposed change to the public charge immigration rule. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs also joins with the Protecting Immigrant Families Washington Coalition in speaking out against the proposed rule.

September 22, 2018
The Department of Homeland Security releases a press statement and a link to the 447-page draft of the proposed public charge rule. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs joins with community members in analyzing the draft and strategizing on next steps.

June 13, 2018
With assistance from OIRA, the local Protecting Immigrant Families Washington Coalition (a network of Washington state-based organizations working on opposing the public charge issue) organizes an Ethnic Media Roundtable to inform outlets serving immigrant and refugee communities about the public charge issue and how they can ensure that accurate information is released to communities.

June 11, 2018
Mayor Jenny A. Durkan co-sponsors a U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution on opposing the public charge rule change. It passes unanimously.

May 9, 2018
Based on the mayor's request for a meeting, the Mayor's Office with the City of Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and invited community members, including representatives from Korean Women's AssociationNorthwest HarvestOneAmerica, Public Health - Seattle and King County, and Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program) meet with OMB representatives and shared arguments against the public charge NPRM.

April 16, 2018
Mayor Jenny A. Durkan sends a letter to federal Office of Management and Budget Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OMB) requesting a meeting on the public charge Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) currently under their review.

March 28, 2018
The Washington Post obtains a leaked Department of Homeland Security draft of a proposal that would expand the definition of "public charge" for immigrants attempting to legally apply for a green card/lawful permanent residency. Again, local service providers reported another surge of immigrants requesting to be taken off of safety net programs that they legally qualify for.

January 31, 2017
The Washington Post obtains a leaked Trump executive order detailing the administration's plans to expand the definition of "public charge" for immigrants attempting to legally apply for a green card/lawful permanent residency. Anecdotally, Seattle-based service providers started reporting stories of immigrants requesting to be taken off of insurance plans and other social programs that they legally qualify for.

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Partners

Children's Alliance | Cities for Action | Entre Hermanos | Food Lifeline | Northwest Harvest | Northwest Health Law Advocates | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project | OneAmerica | Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future Coalition

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Banner photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.