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Public Charge - Frequently Asked Questions

We want to make sure that the community and providers offering services to people who may be directly impacted by this rule have the most up to date information with regards to public charge. Below please find information on commonly asked questions about public charge and the rulemaking process. 

Direct link to the Department of Homeland Security FAQ's.


What is public charge?

Under immigration law, DHS can deny someone a green card or visa if it believes that person is “likely to become a public charge,” that is, is likely to rely on government support for that person’s livelihood.  


Who is subject to public charge?

Public charge applies only to

  • people applying for green cards or visas with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and 

  • permanent residents (green card holders) who leave the US for more than 180 days. 

  • (under the new rule) people with temporary visas who want to extend their visas or change to another type of temporary visa.


Public charge does not apply to permanent residents when they apply for citizenship.​

Who is exempt from public charge?

Public charge does not apply to refugees, asylees, and many other people who have or are applying for certain forms of humanitarian protection


When does the new public charge rule go into effect?

​The new rule takes effect everywhere in the US except Illinois on February 24, 2020.  In Illinois, the rule is blocked by a federal court order. The rule will apply only to individuals whose applications for a visa or green card are postmarked on or after that date.


What changes under the new rule?

The new rule makes three basic changes:

  • changes the definition of public charge

  • adds certain public benefits to the list of benefits that count for public charge

  • adds standards for evaluating whether someone is “likely to become a public charge”


What is the new definition of “public charge”?​

Before this new rule, the federal government defined “public charge” as someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.”  


The new rule defines “public charge” as someone who uses certain public benefits for 12 months out of any 36-month period.  If that person uses two benefits during any given month, that use counts as two months.  


Which benefits count?

Before this new rule, the only benefits that counted were cash benefits (TANF, SSI, general assistance) and long-term institutional care paid for by public support (such as nursing home care paid for by Medicaid).  


Under the new rule, cash benefits still count, as do Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), Medicaid (with several exceptions), Section 8 housing assistance, and public housing.   


  • No other benefits count toward public charge. 


  • Use of SNAP, Medicaid, and housing assistance starts to count only after February 24, 2020.


  • Emergency Medicaid and Medicaid used by children under 21 (AllKids) and women during or within 60 days after pregnancy (Moms and Babies) does NOT count.


If my spouse or children receive benefits, will that count against me?

Only the immigrant’s own use of benefits counts; use of benefits by the immigrant’s children or other household members will not count against the immigrant.


Would this rule have a chilling effect on immigrants seeking public benefits?

​This new rule seems designed to confuse immigrants, particularly those who live with spouses and children who are eligible for benefits but might be concerned that their use of these benefits will affect their ability to gain legal status.  No one should be discouraged from seeking benefits for which they and their family are eligible.


How does this rule change whether someone is “likely to become a public charge”?

The immigration laws require the federal government to weigh certain factors in deciding whether someone can be denied a visa or green card because that person is “likely to become a public charge”:  

  • Age 

  • Health

  • Family status

  • Assets, resources, and financial status

  • Education and skills

The new rule sets specific standards for each of these factors; for instance, if someone is under 18 or over 61, that person’s age will be a negative factor. 

Are there particular factors that the federal government will consider when determining if someone is likely to become a public charge?

The new rule lists these heavily weighted negative factors:

  • Household income below 125% of federal poverty guidelines

  • Lack of current or recent employment or prospects for employment

  • Prior receipt or approval to receive public benefits for more than 12 months in any 36-month period, starting February 24, 2020

  • Diagnosis of a medical condition likely to require extensive treatment, institutionalization or interfere with ability to care for self, attend school or work, where the immigrant lacks health coverage or financial resources to cover foreseeable cost

  • A prior finding that the person should be denied a visa or green card or should be deported based on public charge 


The rule also lists these heavily weighted positive factors: 

  • Household income of at least 250% of federal poverty guidelines

  • Authorization to work and current employment with annual income of at least 250% of federal poverty guidelines

  • Private health insurance (excluding insurance subsidized by tax credits under the Affordable Care Act)


Will this rule make it more difficult for individuals to obtain a green card or other lawful status?

The new standards for deciding whether someone is “likely to become a public charge” will probably prevent many people who have lower incomes, fewer job skills, less education or work experience, or poorer health from getting a visa or green card.  


What happens next?

The new rule takes effect everywhere in the US except Illinois on February 24, 2020.  In Illinois, the rule is blocked by a federal court order; however, the US Department of Justice is asking the US Supreme Court to stay (set aside) this order so that the public charge rule would also take effect in Illinois.  A ruling by the Supreme Court could happen in late February or early March 2020.

The US House and US Senate also have bills that would prevent the US Department of Homeland Security from spending any money to implement the new rule.


How can I get help?

The Immigrant Family Resource Program (IFRP), a partnership between ICIRR and the Illinois Department of Human Services, can assist families who are concerned about how the new public charge rule would affect them.  For more information, visit


How can I get involved?

ICIRR is training allies to give presentation for immigrant families and communities to explain the public charge rule and fight back against the confusion it is already creating.  To learn more please email

Public Charge Related Links

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