Public Charge FAQ

The federal government announced a new proposal related to when certain immigrants might be considered a "public charge" for immigration purposes. If this proposal is adopted, it would bar some immigrants from permanent residence (also known as a green card) or a visa if they use certain public benefits or the federal government believes they will likely rely on public benefits in the future.This page contains general information about the proposal, how the public can get further information and assistance, and how to make their voices heard. The information below is for general educational purposes and is not legal advice.


It is important to know

  • This is a proposal, not a final change. This page will be updated if it becomes final.
  • This proposal would not change eligibility requirements for public benefits programs.
  • Not all immigrants and their families would be subject to this proposed regulation. Refugees, asylees, applicants for U or T visas, VAWA self-petitioners, Special Immigrant Juveniles, and those with certain other statuses are not subject to a "public charge" test.
  • There is no "public charge" test when applying for citizenship. This proposed rule would not change that.




What is "public charge"? Does it apply to all immigrants?

Federal immigration law allows federal officials to deny green cards and visas if they find that an applicant is likely to become a "public charge."

Under current rules, a "public charge" is an immigrant who is likely to rely primarily on cash assistance or long term care from the government for subsistence (i.e. survival). The proposed rule would define a "public charge" as an immigrant who has received or is likely at any time in the future to receive certain specified public benefits. Certain immigration statuses are exempt from the "public charge" test, or may be eligible for a waiver when applying for a green card or visa.

There is not a "public charge" test in the citizenship application process.


Does the proposed "public charge" regulation change eligibility requirements for public benefits?

No. Eligibility requirements for public benefits and programs have not changed as a result of the proposed "public charge" regulation.

Doesn't the federal government already have a "public charge" test?

Yes. The federal government has proposed to change the current "public charge" test, but those changes have not yet been finalized. Therefore, the current test still applies.

Under the current test, a "public charge" is someone who is likely to become "primarily dependent" on the government as their main source of support. This can be shown by their use of certain public benefits. In general, the only benefits that can be considered under the current test are:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • State and local cash assistance for income maintenance
  • Institutionalization for long-term care at government expense

In addition to use of these public benefits, federal law also requires the government to look at a number of factors – including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills – to determine whether someone is likely to become a "public charge."


Did the federal government propose changes to its current "public charge" immigration policy?

Yes. On September 22, 2018, the federal government announced a new proposal to change the "public charge" test for immigration purposes. This proposal has not gone into effect. The government must officially publish the proposal and provide the public an opportunity to comment on the proposal before it is finalized.

The federal government is proposing to:

  • Broaden the definition of "public charge."
  • Expand the type of public benefits an immigration official may consider in applying a "public charge" test, to include more non-cash benefits, including non-emergency Medicaid (with some exceptions), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, and housing assistance (such as public housing or Section 8 housing vouchers and rental assistance).


I am a refugee. Does public charge apply to me?

No. Under both current law and the proposed regulation, there is no "public charge" test if you are a refugee, asylee, applicant for a U or T visa, VAWA self-petitioner or Special Immigrant Juvenile. There are also other statuses not listed here that may not be subject to public charge. For more information, consult an immigration attorney.


How can I make my voice heard about this new proposal?

The public will be able to comment on the new proposal once it is officially published. When that happens, members of the public, regardless of immigration status, may make their voice heard by making a public comment on You can use our tool here to submit your comment directly through the Cities for Action website.