Despite evidence suggesting that immigrants rely on benefits less than American-born citizens, widespread fear has led to tightened restrictions and extensive qualifications for visas, green cards, and citizenship. As a concept, the public charge has existed in immigration law since the 1800s, but the new rule gives an unprecedented amount of decision-making authority to officers. Upon evaluation of a wide variety of factors, officers can deny an application if they believe the applicant is or is likely at any point to become a public charge.
What Is a Public Charge?
According to the new rule, a public charge is a person who has received qualifying public benefits for more than a total of 12 months in a 3-year period. USCIS, however, counts benefits individually, rather than considering the total number of months during which you received any kind of benefit.
Here are a few examples of how USCIS totals benefits:
- 12 months of SNAP (formerly called food stamps): ELIGIBLE
- 13 months of SNAP: INELIGIBLE
- 6 months of SNAP and TANF = 6 months of SNAP + 6 months of TANF = 12 months total: ELIGIBLE
- 7 months of SNAP and TANF = 7 months of SNAP + 7 months of TANF = 14 months total: INELIGIBLE
- 5 months of SNAP, TANF, and SSI = 5 months of SNAP + 5 months of TANF + 5 months of SSI = 15 months total: INELIGIBLE
Your use of benefits is not the only factor USCIS will consider for public charge inadmissibility. The officer may gather evidence related to your:
- Financial resources (e.g. income, assets, head of household, dependents, etc.)
- Education, skills, and background
- Family ties
- Employment history
- Age and health
- Prospective status (i.e. temporary visa holder or permanent resident)
- Potential length of stay in the U.S.
- Completion of forms
The officer will use this combination of data to develop a general understanding of your present circumstances and determine whether you are or could become a public charge.
What Benefits Will USCIS Consider?
USCIS has a comprehensive list of benefits that can disqualify an applicant if received for more than 12 months in a 3-year period.
These benefits include:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- General Assistance (cash benefit programs to maintain income)
- Section 8 Housing or Project-Based Rental Assistance
- Section 9 Public Housing
- Medicaid (unless used for emergencies, by someone under 21, by a person who is pregnant or was pregnant up to 60 days prior, or for a benefit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
You cannot, however, be rendered inadmissible for using the following benefits:
- Emergency assistance (for disasters or medical conditions)
- National school lunch programs
- Federally funded loans (for higher education or mortgages)
- Adoption or foster care subsidies
- Energy assistance
- Temporary rehab programs or shelters
Is Everyone Subject to the Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility?
Some immigrants and nonimmigrants are exempt from this rule. You will not need to worry about public charge inadmissibility if you are a refugee/asylee, T or U visa holder, applicant under the Violence Against Women Act, Special Immigrant Juvenile, or Afghan or Iraqi with a special immigrant visa. Additionally, both U.S. service members and naturalization applicants can use any public benefits without jeopardizing their eligibility.
The rule was initially intended to take effect in October, but multiple federal courts enjoined it. The Supreme Court lifted the injunctions at the end of January, and DHS scheduled the rule to take effect on February 24, 2020. Due to the delay, many related forms use the date October 15, 2019, but USCIS has instructed applicants to treat this date as if it were February 24, 2020.
Get in Touch with Our Firm Today
If you are planning to apply for a visa, extend your status, or become a permanent resident, the public charge rule may affect the outcome of your case. At Gambacorta Law, we have a thorough understanding of this new policy, and we are prepared to help you assess your situation and formulate a personalized strategy to accomplish your goals. If you are inadmissible due to the public charge rule, we may be able to help you acquire a waiver.