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CIANA Explains: Public Charge is Now in Effect

Read this article in Spanish here.

On February 24, the Public Charge rule went into effect nationwide. We’ve written about public charge a number of times already, and we issued a public comment on the original proposal. The rule went into effect despite our best efforts, so we want to lay out what specifically the rule takes into account, and who exactly will be impacted.

Who is a “Public Charge?”

The term “Public Charge” has been used in immigration law for over a century to deny green cards, visas, and admission to the U.S. based on financial ability. As described on the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, “public charge” refers to an individual who is likely to become primarily financially dependent on the government by receiving either public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.

What does this mean? Before granting a green card or a visa, the government must determine whether the applicant is likely to become dependent on cash assistance from the government, or on relying on government aid for long-term care in a hospital or another medical institution.

How is the public charge term changing?

In August 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), published a new rule that expanded the definition of public charge. The new rule expanded the list of benefits that USCIS can consider before granting an applicant a green card or a visa, determining if someone is likely to become a public charge.

Who will be affected?

The consideration of public charge applies to immigrants living in the U.S. applying for a green card or requesting a visa extension to stay longer than originally planned. Citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, an immigrant will be inadmissible as a “public charge” and will therefore not be eligible for a visa, green card, or admission to enter the United States at all.

This change in the public charge policy means that any applicant for permanent residence could be affected if, in the opinion of immigration officials, they are likely to become dependent on US welfare programs.

The programs included in the new rule can be divided into two groups: monetizable benefits such as food stamps (SNAP), housing support, and rental assistance; and non-monetizable benefits, such as Medicaid and subsidized housing. The full list is long, but the most commonly used benefits included are:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), both already part of the public charge consideration

  • SNAP (food stamps)

  • Medicaid

  • Housing Assistance

  • Project-Based rental assistance

Who will not be affected ?

The individuals who are exempt from having the public charge determination applied to them are the following:

  • Refugees and asylees

  • Afghan and Iraqi nationals with special immigrant visas

  • T visa holders and U visas for certain crime victims

  • Individuals applying for or granted status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

  • Special Immigrant Juveniles

  • Those to whom DHS has granted a waiver of public charge

  • Current green card holders applying for naturalization

As the last item indicates, legal permanent residents cannot be denied citizenship due to receiving public benefits.

In addition, immigrants who receive Emergency Medicaid, Child Health Plus, Essential Plan, disaster relief, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and energy assistance (HEAP) are likewise not subject to the public charge test.

Why Do People Support Public Charge?

Supporters of the public charge rule expansion believe that immigrants from poor countries are likely to use public benefits and be a drain on taxpayers. However, data from the DHS disputes this viewpoint: receipt for cash and non-cash benefits was approximately 20 percent among foreign-born residents, meaning that about 80 percent of immigrants do not receive public benefits.

Implementation of the rule will prevent immigrant contributions made to the U.S. The DHS analysis found that only 14 percent of benefit recipients made an income less than 125 percent of the poverty line. This means that the public charge rule can potentially target thousands of applicants that primarily support themselves and contribute to the economy.

Where to Go for Help

The Community Service Society of New York has listed numerous sources that can be utilized to clear up any confusion or misleading information that people may have found. In addition to the list below, any individuals living in the NYC area, can reach CIANA via phone at 718-545-4040 or through email

Other helpful hotlines include:

As always, CIANA is here to answer any questions that clients or community members may have now that public charge is in effect. We've been fighting it since day one, and we're not stopping now.

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