What is public charge?

“Public charge” is a ground of inadmissibility. Grounds of inadmissibility are reasons that a person could be denied a green card, visa, or admission into the United States. In deciding whether to grant some applicants a green card or a visa, an immigration officer must decide whether that person is likely to become dependent on certain government benefits in the future, which would make them a “public charge.” It is not a test that applies to everyone, not even to all those applying for green cards. For an overview of public charge law, click here.

UPDATE: The Department of Homeland Security can still apply the new public charge rule for cases decided within the United States. On February 22, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review one of the legal challenges to the new DHS public charge rule.For more details on litigation updates, see timeline here.

The Department of State is currently blocked from applying its new public charge rule at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad (since July 29, 2020).

On February 2, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order directing agencies to review the public charge rule over the next 60 days. At this point nothing has changed, but hopefully President Biden will uphold his commitment to un-do the prior administration's harmful public charge policies.

Please check back regularly for updates. For more information on the injunctions and pending litigation, see also the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign: https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/.

COVID-19 and Public Charge: All noncitizens should get the care they need. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that getting testing and treatment for COVID-19, including the vaccine, will not trigger public charge. In its announcement, USCIS also indicated that it would take into account other factors in a person’s life due to the pandemic, such as job loss and a need for further benefits, that might impact a public charge decision.

Here are a few important points regarding public charge:

  • Public charge does not apply to all immigrants. This law mainly impacts those seeking permanent resident status through family member petitions.
  • Many immigrant categories are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility, even if they might be applying for status or a green card. U visa holders, T visa holders, asylees, refugees, and many more categories are exempt.
  • Public charge laws do not apply in the naturalization process, through which lawful permanent residents apply to become U.S. citizens.