Understanding the public charge rule

Public charge

A public charge is someone who immigration officials believe will depend on the government for money and support. When you apply for a green card or visa they will review factors like your age, income, health, education, and family support.

Based on that information, immigration could deny your green card application or entrance to the USA. That is called “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds.” 

Your use of certain public benefits will also be considered.   

Public benefits

Public benefits are help from the government for basic needs like health care, housing, food, or cash. They can be from the federal, state, or local government. They use money collected from taxes.

Not all public benefits count towards being a public charge. 

The final rule on public charge  

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) latest public charge rule goes into effect on December 23, 2022. It states there are only two types of public benefits that can count towards being considered a public charge. 

Green card applicants must use the new version of Form I-485 with 12/23/22 at the bottom left of the form. This has new questions about public charge. If you use an older version of the form, your application could be denied. Green card and visa applicants no longer need to submit Form I-944 or DS-5540.

What public benefits are part of public charge?

The two public benefits that can be considered for public charge:

1. Public cash assistance for income maintenance

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) also known as “welfare”
  • State and local cash assistance sometimes called “general assistance”

2. Long-term care paid for by the government 

  • Medicaid or other program support for long-term care at a nursing home or mental health facility

Immigration officials cannot look at your use of other government programs or public benefits. They also cannot look at benefits your family members use unless those programs are your family’s only income.

What public benefits are NOT part of public charge?

The following public benefits are not considered part of the public charge rule. You can use these programs without it affecting your immigration status.

  • Medicaid (except for long-term care)
  • CHIP for children and pregnant women
  • Food and nutrition programs
    • SNAP, WIC, school lunches, food banks
  • Housing assistance
    • Section 8, public housing, shelters
  • Child care assistance
  • Short-term and special cash assistance, like the COVID-19 stimulus check
  • COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines

Who does the public charge rule apply to?

The use of the two types of public benefits above can affect your immigration status with the U.S. if you are:

  • Asking to enter the USA 
  • Applying to become a legal permanent resident (LPR)

Who does the public charge rule NOT apply to?

You can use any type of public benefit and it will not affect your immigration status if you have (or applying for):

  • Refugee and asylee status
  • TPS (temporary protected status)
  • U or T visa  
  • Special immigrant juvenile status 
  • Legal permanent residence (green card)
    • unless you leave the USA for over 6 months
  • Naturalized U.S. citizens

Green card holders who receive certain public benefits might have a harder time sponsoring family members to come to the USA. If this is the case, we suggest seeking legal advice.

Helpful facts

  • Immigration officials must look at all your circumstances when deciding if you are likely to become a public charge.
  • Getting an “affidavit of support” can help show that you have someone who will help support you and you will not become a public charge.
  • You have a right to show why you will not become a public charge. You can show your assets, your skills, your good health, and your employment record.

Legal help

It is important to seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer or accredited representative if you have any questions or concerns. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal services.  

Protecting Immigrant Families and Keep Your Benefits are helpful websites to find more information on public charge. 


The information on this page comes from USCIS, DHS, Protecting Immigrant Families, and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice