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Public Charge Q&A

Middle-aged man looking out of the window and thinking about his naturalization application

When it comes to getting your green card and obtaining permanent residency in the United States, there are many hurdles that you must overcome. The Public Charge Rule, however, may be the most common reason a green card is denied, and the most difficult rule to apply. 

Although every immigration interview is different, if you are interested in determining how the Public Charge Rule might apply to your situation, reviewing the questions and answers below is a good place to start. 

What is the purpose of the Public Charge Rule?

A public charge is someone who needs assistance from the government to survive. Historically, United States immigration law has required green card applicants to be self-sufficient and able to care for themselves as a prerequisite to becoming permanent U.S. residents. 

The purpose of the Public Charge Rule is to determine whether green card applicants have the ability and means to care for themselves without certain public benefits provided by the government.

Was the rule changed?

In 2020, the Public Charge Rule was modified by the Trump administration. In theory, the changes make it more difficult on the green card applicant, but it will take time to see how much of a difference the changes make.

What documents must I file under the Public Charge Rule?

In addition to all the documents necessary for your specific green card application, you will also need to furnish an I-944 form. However, some courts have blocked the US CIS from implementing this I-944 form.  Presently, it is an ongoing court battle where some specific states do not have to file the I-944 form. 

i-944 declaration of self-sufficiency form screenshot

The purpose of this document is to show that you can support yourself and your household without government assistance.

Who is subject to the Public Charge Rule?

In general, the rule applies to those seeking permanent residency through an:

  • employment green card,
  • family green card, 
  • marriage green card, and
  • visa lottery green card.

Is anyone exempt from the Public Charge Rule?

There are several different types of applicants who are not subject to the rule, including:

  • asylees, and
  • refugees.

How does the Public Charge Rule work?

The rule focuses on the probability that you could become a public charge at any time in the future. In general, you will be deemed a public charge if you have received, or it is more likely than not that you will receive, at any time in the future:

  • one of more public benefits,
  • for more than 12 months in total, and
  • within any 36-month period.
Hand calculating on the calculator and the open blank agenda

The adjudications officer will determine whether it is more likely than not that you will receive one or more public benefits in the future by applying a totality of the circumstances test.

How does the totality of the circumstances test work?

In addition to all documents that are part of the green card process, the adjudications officer will consider your:

  • age,
  • health,
  • family status,
  • financial assets and resources,
  • education and skills, and
  • immigration status and period of admission.

No single factor is determinative. All factors will be considered when determining whether you are a public charge. 

Things that could really count against you include being too young or too old to have a productive career and having a medical condition that is likely to require extensive treatment.

Applicants must also demonstrate a household income of at least 125% above the federal poverty guidelines. Proof of income 250% above the poverty guidelines would be heavily weighted in your favor. 

What types of public benefits are considered under the Public Charge Rule?

As stated above, you will be deemed a public charge if you have received, or it is more likely than not that you will receive, at any time in the future:

  • one of more public benefits,
  • for more than 12 months in total, and
  • within any 36-month period.

 The public benefits that the adjudications officer is authorized to consider include:

  • Supplemental Security Income,
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps),
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program,
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance,
  • Public Housing, and
  • Federally funded Medicaid, subject to certain exceptions.
Nurse analyzing the lab work at the hospital as part of medicaid services

Generally, any federal, state, local or tribal cash benefit program for income maintenance will be considered.

What types of benefits are not part of the public charge analysis?

The following benefits will not be considered by the adjudications officer:

  • emergency medical assistance,
  • disaster relief,
  • national school lunch programs
  • the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, infants, and Children,
  • the Children’s Health Insurance Program,
  • Head Start,
  • foster care and adoption subsidies,
  • student and mortgage loans subsidized by the government,
  • energy assistance programs, and 
  • aid provided by food pantries and homeless shelters.

Most benefits received by service members and their families are also exempt.

What Medicaid benefits are exempt from the Public Charge Rule?

Medicaid benefits received in any of the following circumstances will not count against you:

  • treatment of an emergency medical condition,
  • services provided in connection with the Individuals with Disabilities Act,
  • certain school-based services and benefits,
  • benefits received by an alien under the age of 21, and
  • certain benefits received by pregnant women.
Person with disability sitting on the wheelchair

Is COVID-19 part of the public charge analysis?

In general, COVID-19 is not part of the public charge inadmissibility determination. The adjudications officer will not consider COVID-19:

  • testing,
  • treatment, or
  • preventative care.

This is true even if the treatment obtained through a government program, such as Medicaid. 

The Public Charge Rule might sound complicated and somewhat intimidating, but at the end of the day just remember your goal is simple: prove that you can support yourself and your family. Make sure you submit your I-944 form on time and begin saving copies of documents early in the process that you can use to show that you are self-sufficient. The Public Charge Rule is an issue to be concerned about but one that can be overcome.

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