The Public Charge Rule

There is a lot of confusion around the important Public Charge Rule that has been recently reinstated. There have been some changes to the Public Charge Rule this year that have caused some anxiety within the migrant community. The Public Charge Rule is critical for a person seeking a green card, visa, or permanent residency in the U.S. so we thought it would be important to help explain this rule.

What is the Public Charge Rule?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will generally dismiss applications from non-citizens seeking permanent residency if they are deemed a ‘public charge’. Non-citizens will be deemed a public charge if they receive public benefits for more than 12 months during a 36 months period.” With receiving two benefits during a one-month timespan counting as two months.

Receiving Public Benefits does not automatically mean that the recipient will be deemed a public charge. There are exceptions to who the Public Charge Rule applies to and what services are considered under the rule.

Who Does it Apply To?

There are two types of applicants to who the Public Charge Rule applies to:

  • Applicants for admission or adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident (such applicants are subject to the rule’s public charge ground of inadmissibility unless Congress has exempted them from this ground)
  • Applicants for extension of nonimmigrant stay or change of nonimmigrant status (such applicants are subject to the rule’s public benefit condition unless the nonimmigrant classification is exempted by law or regulation from the public charge ground of inadmissibility).


The USCIS does not apply the Public Charge to:

  • Lawful U.S. Citizens, even if the citizen is related to someone who the Public Charge applies to.
  • Lawful permanent residents applying for permanent residency.
  • U.S. Service Members, their spouses, and their children; and
  • Congress has deemed exceptions to Foreign Nations who are considered:
    • Refugees
    • Asylees
    • Afghans and Iraqis with special immigrant visas
    • Certain  nonimmigrant trafficking and crime victims

Benefits Considered:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will only consider public benefits as listed in the rule, including:

  • Supplemental Security Income;
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families;
  • Any federal, state, local, or tribal cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called general assistance in the state context, but which may exist under other names);
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps);
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program;
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation);
  • Public Housing (under the Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. 1437 et seq.); and
  • Federally funded Medicaid (with certain exclusions).

Benefits Not Considered:

DHS will not consider:

  • Emergency medical assistance;
  • Disaster relief;
  • National school lunch programs;
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children;
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program;
  • Subsidies for foster care and adoption;
  • Government-subsidized student and mortgage loans;
  • Energy assistance;
  • Food pantries and homeless shelters;
  • Head Start;
  • Unemployment Benefits; and
  • Certain Medicaid Services;
    • For the treatment of an “emergency medical condition;”
    • As services or benefits provided in connection with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;
    • As school-based services or benefits provided to individuals who are at or below the oldest age eligible for secondary education as determined under state or local law;
    • By aliens under the age of 21; and
    • By pregnant women and by women within the 60-day period beginning on the last day of the pregnancy.
    • Individuals applying under the Violence Against Women Act (male and female victims of domestic violence)
    • Special immigrant juveniles, and
    • Those to whom DHS has granted a waiver of public charge inadmissibility.

Recent Changes:

Prior to February 24, 2020, more public benefits were now considered under the Public Charge Rule. These added considered benefits include:

  • Medicaid, with exceptions
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
  • Federal Public Housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Section 8 project-based rental assistance.

Any non-citizen who used these public benefits prior to February 24, 2020, will not be considered too heavily when USCIS is granting acceptance to applications.


On March 13, 2020, the USCIS stated that treatment and preventative care taken in response to Covid-19 would not be considered under the Public Charge Rule. USCIS encourages all those who have symptoms that resemble Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) (fever, cough, shortness of breath) to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services.

Green Card Renewals

The Public Charge Rule does not apply to those who are seeking renewal for their green card.

Contact Us!

If you are still confused about the Public Charge Rule, reach out to our professional team to help you through this difficult and long immigration process.

You can reach us by calling our Richmond office at (804) 614-6920 to ask questions or schedule a consultation.