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: On November 3, 2020, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government should be able to continue applying the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) public charge rule, just one day after a federal district court had vacated the rule. This means U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may continue to apply the new rule, including requiring submission of Form I-944.

The Department of State is still blocked (since July 29, 2020) from applying the new public charge rule in cases decided at consulates and embassies. Embassies and consulates have not been open for routine processing during much of the pandemic. As consulates begin to process cases, they cannot apply the enjoined DOS rule related to public charge, the health insurance proclamation from October 2019, or prior guidance issued in January 2018 related to public charge.

For a timeline of the rules and litigation, click here.

BACKGROUND: In late 2019, the government issued two new rules related to public charge: one for cases decided in the United States, and the other for cases decided at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad. After litigation initially blocked the rule for cases decided in the United States, both rules took effect February 24, 2020. On July 29, 2020 both rules were blocked by two new court orders. In August, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals first limited the injunction for cases decided by USCIS to New York, Vermont, and Connecticut. In September, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals then lifted the injunction altogether, allowing USCIS to resume implementation of the new rule. USCIS resumed implementation in late September 2020 for all cases postmarked on or after February 24, 2020 (including some submitted over the summer without Form I-944). On November 2, 2020, a different federal district court decided that the new DHS rule violates the law, but on November 3, 2020, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that USCIS can continue enforcing its new rule while it appeals the decision by the district court. Thus, as of November 3, 2020, USCIS can again apply the new public charge rule nationwide.

Please check back regularly for updates. For more information on the injunctions and pending litigation, see 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 a vaccine if one becomes available) 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.