Changes to the Public Charge Rule

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The Trump administration's changes to the Public Charge rule were blocked on March 9, 2021!

This means that the Public Charge test has reverted back to the much narrower interpretation that was in effect prior to the Trump administration, known as the 1999 “field guidance” on public charge. This is a reassuring development and a major victory for immigrant communities. We urge all immigrant New Yorkers and their families to seek the care and services they need without fear.

We will continue to update our website and materials to reflect this change in the near future. For other updated resources, download them directly from the national Protecting Immigrant Families campaign. To join the campaign listserv, go here. For questions related to the Public Charge rule, contact Seongeun Chun, Director of Health Policy, at [email protected]

Background

The Trump administration faced many legal challenges to the Public Charge rule it finalized in 2019. After being in effect for more than a year, on March 9, 2021, the Biden administration announced that it would not defend the Trump administration’s public charge rule in court. This led to the dismissal of the remaining court cases and blocked the rule nationwide. This major victory for immigrant communities means that the narrower interpretation of public charge that was in effect prior to February 24, 2020 - known as the 1999 “field guidance” on public charge - is now back in effect. We are awaiting further information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about how they will interpret green card applications submitted since February 24, 2020, and when they will update forms related to green card applications moving forward. Although the Trump administration changes only applied to certain categories of immigrants, they incited widespread fear in immigrant communities.

We will update our website as guidance is issued. If you would like to consult an immigration expert, call the New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 for suggestions about where to get legal advice. The hotline is free and anonymous, and help is available in many languages.

What is a “public charge?”

An immigrant who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” can be considered a “public charge” by the government. This can affect certain immigrants’ immigration status. Utilizing government programs alone does not make a person a public charge.

When does the government decide if someone is a “public charge”?

It happens when someone is applying for a green card. When an immigrant applies for citizenship the government does NOT check if the person is a “public charge.”

Immigrants with some statuses can apply for a green card or visa WITHOUT “public charge” scrutiny. These include:

  • Refugees and asylees
  • Victims of serious crimes (like U visa holders)
  • VAWA self-petitioners (for people who are victims of violence committed by family members)
  • Special immigrant juveniles (SIJS)
  • Some other immigrants

Which programs might put someone at risk of being considered a “public charge”?

The only government programs that can now be considered in a person’s Public Charge test are:

  • receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance;
  • institutionalization for long-term care at government expense (like living in a nursing home)

Being enrolled in these programs does NOT necessarily mean you will be considered a public charge, but they are some of the things the government looks at.

The vast majority of government programs are NOT included in the public charge test and are safe to use. These include:

  • Medicaid (except for long-term care)
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Essential Plan
  • NYC Care
  • H+H Options
  • Pandemic-EBT
  • SNAP (food stamps)
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Food banks, health clinics, hospitals and homeless shelters
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • One-time cash stimulus payments
  • COVID rent relief programs
  • … and many more

Testing, evaluation and treatment for COVID-19 will NOT put someone at risk of being a “public charge.” Other family members’ use of public benefits will not affect an immigrant’s green card application. There is no benefit to disenrolling U.S. citizens or other eligible family members from health and nutrition programs.

What should concerned community members do?

Immigrant families should seek the care they need and enroll in benefits for which they or families members are eligible. It is safe and smart to see a health care provider if needed, and people can still see a health provider without health insurance. If community members have questions about “public charge” related to an existing or future immigration application, they should consult an immigration attorney or DOJ accredited representative. Call the New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 for suggestions about where to get legal advice. The hotline is free and anonymous, and help is available in many languages.