What Does ‘Public Charge’ Mean?


If you’re looking to live or work in the United States, it’s crucial to understand the “public charge” rule as it can affect your ability to enter the U.S., obtain an extension on a visa, or become a lawful permanent resident. Please continue reading to learn what “public charge” means for immigration purposes and how an adept New Jersey Immigration Lawyer can help you today.

What is the “Public Charge” Rule?

The “public charge” inadmissibility test was established into immigration law by the U.S. Congress in 1883. However, it did not come to be formally defined until 1999, when the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the agency that predated the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), released the “1999 Interim Field Guidance.” Essentially, this guidance declared a “public charge” as someone “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.”

With this definition in mind, when an immigration officer is determining whether to grant an applicant a green card or an extension of a visa, they must also consider whether the applicant is likely to become a “public charge,” meaning will they become dependent on the U.S. government for support. Due to the concern of an individual becoming dependent on government benefits, the current rule allows the government to deny:

  • An immigrant with a green card
  • An extension of a visa
  • Admission into the U.S.

It’s crucial to note that a public charge determination will also consider the totality of the immigrant’s circumstances. This includes their age, health, family status, financial status, assets, resources, financial status, education, skills, and an Affidavit of Support from a sponsor.

What Public Benefits Are Included?

When an immigration officer decides on a public charge, they consider several public benefits. It’s important to understand that receiving such benefits doesn’t automatically render them a public charge. There are various other factors taken into account before making a final decision. The following public benefits are included in this determination:

  • Federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance programs for income maintenance
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance Needy Families (TANF)
  • Medicaid institutionalization (long-term institutionalization paid for by the U.S. government)

The following public benefits are excluded from the determination:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance
  • Medicaid (certain circumstances)
  • Child Health Plus
  • Medicare Part D Extra Help
  • Qualified Health Plans on the Marketplace
  • WIC
  • Foster care and adoption
  • Student and mortgage loans
  • Food pantries
  • Homeless shelters
  • Energy Assistance (HEAP)

For more information about the “public charge” rule, please don’t hesitate to contact a New Jersey immigration lawyer from the Law Offices of Aditya Surti, LLC. Our legal team is seasoned in handling all immigration-related matters.

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