According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS), a public charge is a noncitizen that the government believes has, or is likely to become primarily dependent on government assistance. The government aid is usually public cash income, or institutionalization for long-term care.
If classified as a public charge, a noncitizen can become ineligible for citizenship or permanent residency in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or State will apply a test to determine whether or not the noncitizen is likely to become a "public charge."
The factors considered are:
- Family status
- Financial status
Individuals that may not be subject to the public charge grounds are:
- Special immigrant juveniles
- Victims of crime or trafficking
- Self-petitioners under Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provisions
- Other classifications that are protected by federal laws or acts
Individuals receiving cash assistance for income maintenance will be subject to a public charge designation. This includes:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Any state or local "general assistance" programs
Receiving these benefits may not automatically categorize an individual as a public charge. Each determination is made on a case-by-case basis.
Benefits that are typically non-cash based are not subject to public charge designations for individuals. These benefits include:
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- Medicaid and other health insurances and services
- Nutrition programs, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC
- Child care services
- Housing benefits
- Energy assistance, like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Foster care and adoption assistance
- Unemployment compensation
- Educational assistance, benefits under the Head Start Act
- Non-cash benefits under TANF
- Cash payments that have been earned, such as Social Security Benefits, government pensions, and veteran’s benefits
Yes. Public charge designations are complex. A determination is decided on a case-by-case basis and receiving help from an immigration attorney would be helpful for your legal matter.