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What You Need To Know About The Public Charge Rule

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Last week, the Supreme Court announced that it would allow the Public Charge rule to go into effect despite the various lawsuits opposing the measure. The ruling comes after President Donald Trump requested to overrule a lower court decision that was keeping the rule shelved. With the Court’s decision, the rule will go into effect on February 24th, 2020, for applications submitted on or after this date, in almost all of the U.S. states except for Illinois, where a judge’s order is still blocking the rule. Here is what you need to know:

What is the Public Charge? 

Immigrants applying for a green card (lawful permanent residence) or a visa to enter the U.S. must pass a “public charge” test. – which looks at whether the person is likely to use certain government services in the future. In making this determination, immigration officials review all of a person’s circumstances, including their age, income, health, education or skills (including English language skills), and their sponsor’s affidavit of support or contract. They can also consider whether a person has used certain public programs, such as:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, “EBT” or “Food Stamps”) 
  • Federal Public Housing and Section 8 assistance 
  • Medicaid (except for emergency services, children under 21 years, pregnant women, and new mothers) 
  • Cash assistance programs (like SSI, TANF, General Assistance)

Who does it affect?

The Public Charge does NOT affect all immigrants.

Citizens and Green Card holders are NOT affected by the rule. The law mainly targets those seeking permanent resident status through family member petitions, especially for those with adjustment interviews in the U.S. However, it does NOT apply in the naturalization process, through which lawful permanent residents apply to become U.S. citizens. 

VISA EXCEPTIONS: For those applying to TPS (Temporary Permanent Stay), U or T Visa, Asylum or Refugee status, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status the rule does NOT apply unless they leave the US for over 180 days and seek to reenter.

The rule applies for any immigrant who has been living in the U.S. and has received at least one public benefit for more than 12 months within any three-year period, including:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, “EBT” or “Food Stamps”)
  • Federal Public Housing and Section 8 assistance
  • Medicaid (except for emergency services, children under 21 years, pregnant women, and new mothers)
  • Cash assistance programs (like SSI, TANF, General Assistance)

Most immigrants who are subject to public charge are not eligible for the programs listed in the rule to start with. 

Benefits like My Health LA and WIC,  school lunches, food banks, shelters, child care assistance, state and locally funded health care, and many more programs are exempt from the rules.

What to do moving forward? 

Even though the Public Charge will start soon, advocates are still trying to stop it in courts, so the new rule might not last forever. In the meantime, keep informed and know your rights. Keep in mind that even using the benefits and fitting the “public charge” description does NOT guarantee that the application will be denied. Immigration officials must look at all of the applicant’s circumstances and determine whether they are likely to become a public charge in the future. Applicants will also have a chance to show and argue that they are not likely to rely on certain benefits in the future. In addition, experts also recommend trying to talk to an attorney before stopping your benefits.

In addition, many public programs, like English classes, are not considered in the public charge test. 

Here are some resources to help immigrants understand the new regulations:





Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.