Facts on “Public Charge”

To be eligible for entry to the US or to apply for a green card, an applicant must be able to prove that they have enough financial support to visit or live in the US without concern of becoming reliant on US government welfare, that is, to become a public charge.  This requirement has gone back more than 100 years as part of the US immigration laws.

Immigration and welfare laws have generated some concern about whether a noncitizen may face adverse immigration consequences for having received federal, state, or local public benefits.  Some non-citizens and their families are eligible for public benefits–including disaster relief, treatment of communicable diseases, immunizations, and children’s nutrition and health care programs–without being found to be a public charge.  We are often asked what qualifies as a public charge and what sort of assistance would make an individual inadmissible?

In determining inadmissibility, USCIS defines “public charge” as an individual who is likely to become “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.”  In determining whether an alien meets this definition for public charge inadmissibility, a number of factors are considered, including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills.  No single factor, other than the lack of an affidavit of support, if required, will determine whether an individual is a public charge.

Programs that are likely to be viewed as those which would make a noncitizen inadmissible as a public charge include:


Each of the above are often called “general assistance” programs and acceptance of public cash from these sort of programs could make a non-citizen inadmissible.  However, the mere receipt of these benefits do not automatically make an individual inadmissible, or ineligible to adjust status to lawful permanent resident, or deportable on public charge grounds.  USCIS will make a determination on a case-by-case basis and will review it in the context of the totality of the circumstance.

In addition, public assistance, including Medicaid, that is used to support aliens who reside in an institution for long-term care (nursing home, mental health institute), may also be considered as an adverse factor in the totality of the circumstances for purposes of public charge determination.

The following non-cash benefits and special-purpose cash benefits (that are not intended for income maintenance) are not subject to public charge consideration:


It should be noted, that in general, lawful permanent residents who possess a “green card” cannot be denied US citizenship for lawfully receiving any public benefits for which they are eligible.

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