Public Charge (Immigrant Rights)

Last Modified: 09/28/2021

If you are applying for immigration status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or to enter the U.S. on a visa, you may be required to pass a “public charge” test. 

On March 9, 2021 the Department of Homeland Security announced that the government would no longer defend the 2019 public charge rule, and as a result, the 1999 guidance remains in effect.

Immigration officials at USCIS have announced that immigrants can seek testing, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19 without fearing immigration consequences due to public charge. 

Please read below for information about the public charge rule.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines public charge as “an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receipt of pubic cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” 

The public charge test only applies to immigrants in three categories:

  • Non-citizens applying to be “admitted,” meaning applying for a visa;
  • Non-citizens applying to adjust their status to become Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder); and
  • Lawful Permanent Residents who leave the U.S. for 180 consecutive days and want to come back.

The public charge test does not apply to:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) applying to become citizens
  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • Victims of trafficking and other serious crimes (T Visa, U Visa, VAWA)
  • Special Immigrant Juveniles
  • Certain parolees
  • Some other humanitarian immigrants

Only two (2) categories of public benefit programs count towards determining if you pass the public charge test:

  • Cash assistance such as TANF and SSI
  • Long-term care at government expense such as nursing home or inpatient mental health care

Examples of benefits that are not considered include:


Find Out if You are Subject to the Public Charge Test BEFORE Applying for Any Type of Immigration Status

There are resources to help you determine if the public charge test applies to you or your family:

The best way to know if you are subject to the public charge test is to speak with a lawyer who specializes in immigration about your specific set of circumstances. CLSMF’s HELPline attorneys do not give advice regarding immigration matters. To find an attorney who may be able to assist, contact the Florida Bar Referral Service online or by phone at 800-342-8011.


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