Policy Info

Public Charge In the past, a “public charge” was someone deemed likely to become dependent on the government, whether for food, shelter or other basic needs. In 2020, the administration implemented a new rule that defines a public charge as “a person who uses or receives one or more specified public benefits for at least 12 months in a 36-month period.” This rule applies only to certain types of immigrant visas and is clearly intended to deter immigration and use of public benefits. Following Inauguration Day 2021, the revised rule may be struck down by the Biden Administration. Advocacy groups are currently urging the new administration to take swift action on the public charge rule and immigration reform.

To learn more about this rule and how it impacts immigrant communities, read our public charge FAQ.

If you are a healthcare provider treating immigrant communities, read this guide to answering patient questions.

If you work at a community health center, review these media talking points about public charge and healthcare.

We continue to see the chilling effects run rampant within immigrant communities, as families choose to opt-out of critical safety net programs in fear of jeopardizing their immigration status. COVID-19 has exposed long-existing inequities and the importance of safe access to health care and the social safety net for our immigrant communities. This continues to be a significant concern for the communities we serve.

Accessing Public Benefits Under the current public charge rule, receiving certain public benefits – such as SNAP (food stamps), public housing and some cash assistance – may be viewed negatively by government officials reviewing an application for lawful permanent resident status. Most people subject to this rule are not currently eligible for these public benefits.

Individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can access benefits made available by the Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Disaster Cash Assistance Program (DCAP). This program is open to immigrants and refugees, and anyone seeking to apply for these funds is encouraged to reach out to DSHS to inquire about their eligibility. Learn more about this process in the DCAP FAQ.

To learn about public benefits that may be considered public charge determination, visit opens in a new windowthe Washington Health Care Authority.

Accessing Healthcare Immigrants and refugees can receive care in the emergency room, at community and migrant health centers, at local free clinics, and in public hospitals without insurance. If someone does not have a doctor, they can call a local health center in Washington to learn more. Locate one here.

Under the Affordable Care Act, many immigrants and refugees are fully eligible for insurance. Every individual should check their eligibility before applying.

Sponsor Responsibilities In immigration law, a “sponsor” is defined as someone who helps an immigrant or refugee become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) by signing a document called an “affidavit of support.” A sponsor may be legally and financially responsible for those they sponsor under some circumstances. To learn more, check out the sponsor liability FAQ.
Questions? If you have questions or concerns about the potential impact of your use of public benefits, contact an immigration attorney. You may contact one of the following organizations for help:


Reviewed on 8/27/2020