December 1, 2023

Immigration Green Card

Immigration Is Good For You

What you need to know about the updated public charge rule | Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity

4 min read

On September 8, 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final rule on public charge. This rule provides clarity and consistency for noncitizens on how DHS will administer the public charge ground of inadmissibility. This refers to reasons that a person could be denied a green card, visa, or admission into the United States based on the likelihood that they may become dependent on certain government benefits.

On December 23, 2022, this final rule went into effect. This unravels the Trump-era rule that considered benefits such as Medicaid and nutritional assistance as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination. It restores the understanding of a “public charge” that had been in place for decades.

The new federal ruling aligns with Philadelphia’s commitment to being a city that welcomes and supports its immigrant communities by providing access to lifesaving benefits and services.

What is public charge?

Under federal law, public charge is a test to determine if someone applying for permanent residence (a “green card”) or a visa to enter the United States seems likely to depend on the government as their main source of support in the future. If the U.S. government decides that the applicant is likely to become a public charge, the government can deny their green card or visa application.

Many immigrants can safely receive public benefits.

Not every immigration status has a public charge test. So, many immigrants don’t have to worry about public charge. If public charge doesn’t apply to you, you can receive any public benefit you qualify for without risk to your immigration status.

Who is not affected by public charge?

  • Green card holders. If you already have your green card, public charge does not apply when you are renewing your green card or when you apply for U.S. citizenship. However, if you plan to leave the country for more than 6 months, public charge could apply when you return to the United States. You should talk with an immigration attorney before you leave.
  • Humanitarian immigrants and crime victims. If you have a U or T Visa, Asylum or Refugee status, Special Immigrant Juvenile status, or you are a VAWA self-petitioner, public charge does not apply to you. Public charge is not part of the application process for any of these statuses and public charge cannot be used to deny green cards to anyone with these statuses.

Who may be affected by public charge?

  • People applying for green cards and visas. If you are or will be applying for a green card or a visa and your status is not listed above, public charge might apply to you. If public charge applies to you, it can be used to deny you a green card or visa. But, you and your family can still receive most public benefits without harming your green card or visa application.

What counts as inadmissible under public charge?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers an applicant’s current and/or past receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance. Public cash assistance for income maintenance includes only the following:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program
  • State and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance” programs).

Additional information on what is inadmissible under public charge can be found at USCIS.

If public charge applies to you, and you’ll be applying for a green card or visa:

Your family can safely use ANY public benefits programs they qualify for. Your family’s use of public benefits cannot be counted against you.

You can safely use many of the public benefits programs you qualify for, including any of the programs listed below. None of these programs can be counted against you:

  • Medicaid/Medical Assistance (unless used to pay for a nursing home)
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Marketplace/Obamacare/Pennie health insurance plans
  • Medicare
  • Prescription assistance programs
  • Charity care
  • Community health clinics
  • COVID vaccines
  • Stimulus payments
  • Child tax credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/food stamps
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • School meals/Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT)
  • Food cupboards/pantries
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Housing subsidies
  • Rental Assistance
  • Rent and property tax rebate
  • Utility Assistance
  • Child Care Works subsidies
  • And others.

Get help with public benefits

  • Visit Community Legal Services (CLS) to get free live legal help on public benefits and more. Community Legal Services provides free legal advice and representation to low-income residents of Philadelphia.
  • Visit a BenePhilly Center. The centers have trained counselors to help you apply for many public benefits all at once. They have appointments in person, over the phone, and virtually. Spanish-speaking counselors are available, and interpretation in other languages can also be provided.

Get help with immigration legal services

  • Nationalities Services Center champions immigrants, with urgency today — and for generations to come. For over a century, NSC has empowered immigrants and refugees to thrive in our communities and pursue a just future.
  • HIAS Pennsylvania supports low-income immigrants of all backgrounds as they build new lives in our community.
  • Esperanza Immigration Legal Services provides direct legal services, advocacy, and community education for underserved immigrants and their families so they have the opportunity to contribute to and participate in American society.
  • Justice at Work Legal Aid provides legal help with workplace or immigration issues. Call Justice at Work at (215) 733-0878 or fill out this online intake form.


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