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Frequently Asked Questions
To request a training at your organization about public charge and the proposed rule changes, fill out this training request form.
In August 2019, the Trump administration tried to change the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Public Charge rule, but multiple lawsuits stopped the rule from going into effect. The government then requested that the Supreme Court allow the rule to go into effect. On Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to allow the DHS Public Charge rule to go into effect while the lower courts hear arguments about the merits or legality of the rule. The new rule will be in effect as of February 24, 2020.
What is a “public charge?”
An immigrant who uses certain kinds of benefits from the government might 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 or some kinds of visas. When an immigrant applies for citizenship the government does NOT check if the person is a “public charge.”
Which programs might put someone at risk of being considered a “public charge”?
The existing government programs in the long-standing public charge rule are cash assistance (like TANF or SSI) and institutionalized long-term health care (like a nursing home).
The Trump Administration has added the following federal programs to the rule as of February 24, 2020:
- SNAP (food stamps)
- Non-emergency federally-funded Medicaid (but NOT healthcare services, fee-scale health care like the H+H Options program, the Essential Plan, Emergency Medicaid, or Medicaid for pregnant women and children)
- Section 8 and public housing
Simply being enrolled in these programs does NOT necessarily mean an immigrant will be considered a public charge, but they are some of the things the government examines. MOST government benefits are not included on this list. If affected immigrants have children who are US Citizens, they can apply for these programs on their children’s behalf without putting themselves at risk. Use of these benefits prior to February 24, 2020 will not be held against green card applicants no matter when they apply for their green card.
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
Are the changes to the rule retroactive?
No. The changes to the public charge rule cannot be applied prior to the effective date of the new rule, which is February 24, 2020.
What should concerned community members do?
Concerned community members don’t need to cancel their benefits if they are not at risk of being considered a “public charge.” Even if someone is submitting an application with a public charge test, it is important to think about their families’ needs as well as immigration concerns. If community members have questions about “public charge” related to an existing or future immigration application, they should consult an immigration lawyer. 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.
For questions related to public charge, contact the NYIC Public Charge Fellow at [email protected]