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: