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 Traditional Test for Public Charge

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:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Family status
  • Assets
  • Resources
  • Financial status
  • Education
  • Skills

Who Is Subject to the Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility?

Persons immigrating through a family visa petition are subject to the test. They are also required to submit an Affidavit of Support Form I-864.

Individuals that may not be subject to the public charge grounds are:

  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • 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

Benefits Subject to the Public Charge Classification

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 Not Subject to the Public Charge Classification

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

Should I Consult an Attorney for My Public Charge Issues?

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.