Patient Questions About Public Charge

In 2019, the public charge rule was revised in a way that was meant to be confusing and scary for immigrants. As trusted healthcare providers, Community Health Centers are receiving many questions about the new rule from their patients. Here are the most important messages to convey:

  1. It is safe and smart to see the doctor if you need care. Your doctor is required to honor your right to privacy. You do not need to share any information about your immigration status unless you apply for Medicaid or other health coverage.
  2. You can still see a doctor without medical insurance. This includes care you receive in the emergency room, at community and migrant health centers, free clinics, and public hospitals. If you don’t have a doctor, call a local community health center for assistance. You can locate a health center in Washington here:
  3. Hospitals and healthcare spaces are safe to visit. Federal guidelines prohibit immigration agents from conducting arrests or other enforcement actions at healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, health centers, and urgent care facilities.
  4. This public charge inadmissibility test does not apply to every immigrant. Exempt immigrants include: refugees; asylees; survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders); VAWA self-petitioners; special immigrant juveniles; and certain people paroled into the U.S. Benefits received when people are in one of these statuses will not be counted against them, and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) are not subject to a public charge test when they apply for U.S. citizenship.
  5. Use of public benefits will not automatically make you a public charge. Immigration officials must look at all your circumstances in determining whether you are likely to become a public charge in the future. This includes your age, health, income, assets, resources, education/skills, family you must support, and family who will support you. Positive factors, like having a job or health insurance, can be weighed against negative factors, like having used certain benefits or having a health condition. Either way, you will have a chance to show why you are not likely to rely on certain benefits in the future.
  6. This public charge test does not consider benefits used by family members. Most immigrants who are applying for a green card are not eligible for the benefits listed in the rule. And benefits used by eligible family members are not counted unless the family members are also applying for a green card. Healthcare, nutrition, and housing programs can help you and your children remain strong, productive, and stable.
  7. Your personal information is protected. Federal and state laws protect the privacy of people who apply for or receive healthcare coverage, nutrition, economic support, or other public benefits. Applications for public programs should not ask for information about the immigration status of people applying to get benefits for another person in their family or the household. Benefit agencies may share information with other government agencies only for purposes of administering their programs, with limited exceptions. You can provide only the information necessary and should never misrepresent anything when completing public benefit applications or dealing with any government agency.


Special thanks to the California Primary Care Association for providing the model that the Coalition used in writing these FAQs..


Reviewed on 8/27/2020