Public Charge FAQs

“Public charge” or the “public charge test” is used by immigration officials to decide whether a person can enter the U.S. or secure Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status (i.e. get a green card). Here you can find answers for some of your common questions:

What is public charge?
  • “Public charge” or the “public charge test” is used by immigration officials to decide whether a person can enter the U.S. or secure Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status (i.e. get a green card).
  • In this test, officials must look at all of a person’s circumstances, including income, employment, health, education or skills, family situation and whether a sponsor signed a contract (“affidavit of support”) promising to support the person.
  • As part of the assessment, officials can also look at whether a person has used specific benefit programs, but other factors mentioned above MUST be taken into consideration, as well.
  • The public charge test does not apply to green card holders who are applying for U.S. citizenship or to renew their green card ID.
What does the final public charge rule do?
  • The final rule changes the definition of public charge from a person dependent on the government for financial and material support to “a person who uses or receives one or more specified public benefits for at least 12 months in a 36-month period.”
  • The rule explicitly clarifies that receipt of or application for benefits on behalf of someone else does not constitute receipt of benefits.
Will care provided for COVID-19 count towards the public charge test?

No. On March 13, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that testing, prevention, or treatment for COVID-19 would not be used against immigrants in a public charge test. This means that immigrant families should seek the care they need during this time.

Who is subject to the Public Charge Test?
  • Only people applying from abroad to enter the country or individuals holding visas who are applying for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (i.e. green card) are subjected to the public charge test.
  • However, if somebody with LPR status leaves the country for more than 180 consecutive days (6 months), they can be assessed for public charge when they seek to re-enter the country.
  • Public charge does not apply to refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence, and victims of trafficking or other serious crimes, special immigrant juveniles, temporary protected status (TPS), and certain other groups. For help determining if the rule applies to you, visit Protecting Immigrant Familiesopens PDF file .
  • Individuals who are renewing their TPS or DACA status will NOT be subjected to the public charge test.
What public benefit programs are included in the final rule?
  • Federally funded Medicaid, with the following exemptions: 1) emergency Medicaid, 2) Medicaid benefits received by a person under 21 years of age, 3) Medicaid benefits received by a woman during pregnancy and for 60 days after, 4) Medicaid benefits received by active duty or Ready Reserve members of the armed forces and their spouses and minor children, and 5) Medicaid received while a person was exempt from public charge.
  • Supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP)
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance and Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Cash assistance (SSI, TANF, and any federal, state, local, or tribal cash benefit programs)


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

Note: This does not constitute legal advice. Please consult am immigration lawyer for clarification or individual circumstances.



Reviewed on 8/27/2020