UPDATE: On September 9, 2022, USCIS published a final rule on public charge that is set to go into effect on December 23, 2022. Until then, USCIS will continue following longstanding prior public charge policy, the 1999 “field guidance.” 

The new rule essentially codifies the 1999 guidance, with some added details and protections, strengthening the public charge guidance that we have had for more than two decades. At this time, the 1999 guidance is in effect. Under both current policy and the new rule once it goes into effect, it is safe for immigrants and their families to use health, nutrition, and housing programs for which they qualify. Health care programs, including Medicaid and COVID care, housing, food programs, and many other vital services are safe to use.  

In addition, many eligible immigrants can pursue legal status without fear of the harsh public charge rule. Only those deemed likely to be primarily dependent on cash aid for income maintenance or long-term care at government expense could be denied for public charge.

Remember, the public charge test only applies to some programs and some immigrants.

  • It never applies to U.S. citizens, including the children of immigrants.
  • It also doesn’t apply to most people with a green card, or asylees, refugees, people with U visas, T visas, VAWA, and many others. The new rule includes a helpful list of the categories of noncitizens who are exempt from a public charge determination, including people applying for or granted asylum, refugee status, or TPS; special immigrant juveniles; and Afghan or Iraqi special immigrant visa holders. VAWA self-petitioners, and survivors who have applied for or been granted T or U status are generally exempt from a public charge assessment, regardless of their ultimate pathway to a green card.
  • A family member’s use of public programs cannot affect your future immigration applications. 
  • Testing, treatment, and preventative services for COVID-19 — including vaccines — are not part of public charge. Pandemic relief payments (stimulus checks) are also not part of public charge.
  • The use of health, nutrition, and housing programs cannot be considered in the public charge test.

USCIS created a new Public Charge Resources page here, which includes FAQs about which public benefits are considered when making public charge inadmissibility determinations under the 1999 guidance. For example, it stresses that USCIS does not consider COVID-19 testing, treatment, vaccines, or public benefits specifically related to the coronavirus pandemic. It also includes answers to common questions about other programs and tax credits. 

The government stopped following the Trump-era rule on March 9, 2021. Since that time, the prior 1999 guidance has been back in effect. For more details on the litigation leading up to March 9, 2021, see our timeline here.