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Public Charge- What’s that?

Allison Lukanich

The Department of Homeland Security’s updated “public charge” rule for permanent resident applicants is set to go in effect on February 24, 2020 per the Supreme Court’s recent ruling. While there is still ongoing litigation as to the Department’s rule change, there have been renewed questions about “what is a public benefit?” and “what would it mean to be considered a public charge?” We’re here to provide you with a simple explanation to these two questions.

What is a Public Charge?

A “public charge” is someone who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”

The ramifications of being considered a public charge or someone likely to become primarily dependent upon the government, is being considered inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become a legal permanent resident.

So then, if you receive a public benefit are you considered a public charge? No, not exactly.

What is a public benefit?

Many believe that a public benefit is something handed out to someone because they did not have the funds for it. This is not always the case. A public benefit includes: Medicaid, a federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources; Social Security, a monthly monetary benefit for retirees, disabled persons, and families of retired, disabled or deceased workers; Unemployment insurance; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal food assistance program; Housing Assistance, this can take the form of Title VIII housing vouchers; Supplement Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).

Many people during their lifetime will receive a public benefit. Receiving a public benefit as a non-immigrant does not automatically render someone as a public charge.

Benefits Subject to Public Charge Consideration

Defined under the specifications for the public charge ruling, public benefits taken into account by USCIS for which a person could be deemed inadmissible or ineligible to obtain permanent residency are:

  • Long-term institutional care through Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)**
  • Cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)**

Some of the programs may provide cash benefits, such as energy assistance, transportation or child care benefits provided under TANF or the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and one-time emergency payments under TANF. Since the purpose of such benefits is not for income maintenance, but rather to avoid the need for ongoing cash assistance for income maintenance, they are not subject to public charge consideration.

**Also including state or local cash assistance programs for income maintenance, often called “general assistance” programs. Acceptance of these forms of public cash assistance could make a noncitizen inadmissible as a public charge if all other criteria are met.

What does this all mean?

Being considered a public charge has been a basis for which an officer could deem someone inadmissible or ineligible for permanent residency for the past 100 years. As of this current update, USCIS officers will continue to review the receipt of public benefits on a discretionary, case-by-case basis. These new parameters will make it more difficult for immigrants who have taken public assistance to obtain permanent residency status.

Who is affected?

Not all persons applying for permanent residency will be affected by the public charge rule. There are certain groups of people who are either exempt from public charge, or may get a waiver for public charge when applying for a Green Card or other benefits with USCIS. These include:

  • Refugees
  • Asylum applicants
  • Refugees and asylees applying for adjustment to permanent resident status
  • Amerasian Immigrants (for their initial admission)
  • Individuals granted relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA)
  • Individuals granted relief under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)
  • Individuals granted relief under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)
  • Individuals applying for a T Visa
  • Individuals applying for a U Visa
  • Individuals who possess a T visa and are trying to become a permanent resident (get a Green Card)
  • Individuals who possess a U visa and are trying to become a permanent resident (get a Green Card)
  • Applicants for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • Certain applicants under the LIFE Act Provisions

If you have questions on how this updated rule can affect yours or your family’s ability to apply for permanent residency, contact our office.

You can also see the USCIS Fact Sheet for more information and where we drew from for this post.

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