Public Charge: New Updates and Take Action before Oct 20

In this blog post written by OneAmerica Leader Neha Gupta, read about what Public Charge is and how you can take action today.


“Public Charge” is a term that’s become commonplace in conversations about immigration over the past 100 years, but the idea is often misinterpreted. It refers to individuals who might look to the government as their main source of support in the future. This can then impact someone’s ability to apply to come to the U.S. or to become a resident here. It does not apply, however, when someone applies for U.S. citizenship.

Often when someone wants to apply for permanent residence (their “green card”) in the U.S. they can be subject to a test to see if they will become a public charge. The test itself reviews many factors ranging from income to family size to use of government benefits to educational background. 


It’s important to understand that the test primarily impacts those applying for a green card via a family petition process. 


  • Asylees 
  • Refugees 
  • U or T visa applicants and holders aka victims of crimes and human trafficking
  • VAWA self-petitioner 
  • People seeking or granted SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status) 
  • Green card holders who do not leave the U.S. for over 180 days 
  • Applicants for U.S. citizenship 
  • Applicants for Green card renewal 
  • Applicants for Asylum DACA, TPS, or DED 

If the test does apply to you, however, you can still show that you probably won’t become a public charge since officers take into account all factors of background including health and education. 


There are only 2 main benefits considered in public charge decisions: cash assistance for ongoing expenses meaning programs like SSI or TANF and long-term care paid for by Medicaid. In fact, the majority of benefits are actually not considered in public charge decisions including nutrition and housing programs, emergency and disaster relief, unemployment benefits, community-based services, and more.


Originally, the public charge rule was designed to help identify people who may use the government as their main support source moving forward by identifying those on certain government assistance programs. The goal was to almost flag people who were likely to become the government’s responsibility and deem them ineligible for permanent residency. 

However, under the Trump administration the public charge rule was made even more exclusionary, potentially barring any non-US citizen who receives one or more benefits for more than 12 months total over a 3 year period from applying for adjustment of status. This new designation made it much more difficult for low income individuals to immigrate as they were often more reliant on government services due to having poor credit, speaking limited English, and lack of support services overall. 

However, in March 2021, DHS, under the Biden administration, issued a statement saying that the 1999 Public Charge Guidance would be reinstated, focusing on those who would use government as their primary support. This essentially means the changes under the Trump era are no longer in effect anywhere. 


Now, the changes made during the Trump administration regarding public charge do not apply. Most programs including housing, COVID-19 testing, etc. do not impact immigration status and won’t subject someone to the public charge test.


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” seeking guidance in developing new public charge regulations. The Protecting Immigrant Families coalition has developed a sign-on comment, urging DHS to implement common-sense reforms, including:

  • Clearly and narrowly defining “public charge”
  • Affirm that qualifying immigrant families can use almost all safety net programs without triggering a public charge determination, and
  • Direct immigration officers to consider affidavits of support as sufficient to overcome statutory considerations like age, disability, and income

Our strategy is to send DHS a unified message by getting as many partner nonprofits as possible signed onto these comments. The deadline to sign onto the comment is Wednesday, October 20, so time is of the essence.

Please sign your organization onto the comment letter today. Here is a list of organizations that have already signed on. If we act together and quickly, we can help DHS develop regulations that shield immigrant families and safeguard our nation’s future. The deadline to sign onto the comment is Wednesday, October 20.

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