Get the Facts about "Public Charge"

The information on this page does not, and is not intended to, constitute as legal advice. Instead, all content below is provided for general informational purposes only.


Current Status of Public Charge

On December 23, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility final rule went go into effect. This previously announced final rule provides clarity and consistency for noncitizens on how DHS will administer the public charge ground of inadmissibility. It replaced the cruel and restrictive version of the policy instituted by the Trump administration. 

According to the new rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will use the following criteria to determine if someone is likely to become a public charge:

  • The noncitizen’s “age; health; family status; assets/resources/financial status; and education/skills,” as required by the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act);

  • The filing of Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA, submitted on a noncitizen’s behalf when one is required; and

  • The noncitizen’s prior or current receipt of:

    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI);

    • Cash assistance for income maintenance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);

    • State, Tribal, territorial, or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance”); or

    • Long-term institutionalization at government expense.

You can learn more information from:

Many immigrant advocacy organizations believe that it currently remains safe for eligible immigrants to enroll in health, nutrition, and housing benefits. In most situations, the use of public benefits will not negatively impact an immigrant's legal status.

The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) recommends that if you are uncertain about your status or a family member's status and/or use of benefits, you should speak with an immigration attorney or Department of Justice (DOJ)-accredited representative.

You may be able to find a lawyer through the American Immigration Lawyers Association here. You can find the nearest DOJ-accredited organization here.

You can find the City of Seattle's 2018 public comment against the proposed public charge rule here.


Public Charge FAQ

Adapted from the 1,2,3s of Public Charge document here.

1. Who does public charge apply to?

Public charge does not apply to everyone. People seeking a green card through a family member or who seek to enter the U.S. from abroad may be subject to this test. Many people are exempt, (see the list below).

There is no public charge test for the following categories of immigrants:

    • Asylees

    • Refugees

    • U or T visa applicants and holders (human

      trafficking or victims of crimes)

    • VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petitioner

    • People seeking or granted SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status)

There is no public charge test when an immigrant applies for the following:

    • U.S. citizenship

    • Green card renewal

    • Asylum, DACA, TPS, or DED (initial applications and renewals)

2. Which benefits are considered?

Immigration officials can only consider benefits received by the green card applicant. They cannot consider benefits used by other family or household members, even if the applicant’s name is on their family member’s application, unless the benefits received are the family’s only income. Most people applying for family-based green cards are not eligible for these benefits programs. Immigration officials can only consider two types of benefits:

    1. Monthly cash assistance intended to support a person. This includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state-based cash assistance programs.

    2. Long-term institutional care at government expense.

3. What benefits are NOT considered?

    1. Medicaid, Emergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, state and local health care programs (except long-term care), insurance and subsidies through, and other healthcare exchanges
    2. Nutrition programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); school lunch programs; food banks
    3. Subsidized housing programs, such as Section 8 and Public Housing
    4. COVID vaccines, testing, and treatment and COVID-related supports, such as Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), stimulus payments, child tax credits, emergency rental assistance
    5. Other state-based, non-cash assistance programs
    6. Cash benefits based on work or earnings, including Social Security, retirement, pensions, veterans benefits
    7. Local discount programs, such as the City of Seattle Utility Discount Program and programs to help small businesses, such as the Office of Economic Development Small Business Stabilization Fund.

4. What is the "totality of the circumstances?"

Even if someone has used the programs above, immigration officials will look at the individual’s whole situation when they decide if they’re likely to become a public charge in the future. Past use of public benefits can be outweighed by positive factors. Also, immigration officials must consider an affidavit of support, which is a contract that a sponsor (usually a family member) signs to accept financial responsibility for a person moving permanently to the U.S. The public charge test also considers:

    • Income
    • Employment
    • Education
    • Health
    • Family Status
    • Affidavit of support

This information is available in Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese here.

The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) recommends that if you are uncertain about your status or a family member's status and/or use of benefits, you should speak with an immigration attorney or Department of Justice (DOJ)-accredited representative.


Information and Resources about Public Charge

Use of all local City of Seattle program such as the Utility Discount Program and Seattle Preschool Program will not impact your ability to apply for lawful permanent residency (green card) or U.S. citizenship.

Go here to see the many Seattle programs that immigrants may be eligible for, regardless of their immigration status and regardless of the public charge rule.

Immigrant and Refugee Affairs

Hamdi Mohamed, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 1616, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94573, Seattle, WA, 98124
Phone: (206) 727-8515

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The mission of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs is to improve the lives of Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities by engaging them in decisions about the City of Seattle’s future and improving the City’s programs and services to meet the needs of all constituents.