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The new Public Charge Rule

On February 24, 2020, the new USCIS regulation on Public Charge went into effect, after surviving many legal challenges.  The new regulations are expected to have a significant negative impact on approvals for Green Card applications.  

We’ve distilled the basics of the new rule below, and answered some of the most important questions.  

What is the Public Charge provision? 

It is a long-standing ground of inadmissibility under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA). It says:   

“Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.”       

-- INA §212 (a)(4) 

What is new?  

  • Definition of public charge 
  • Range of public benefits considered 
  • Standards for making a determination 

What is the new definition? 

“Public charge means an alien who receives one or more public benefits … for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36–month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).”      

-- 8 CFR § 212.21(a) 

For example, if a person lives in Section 8 housing for 6 months, receives food stamps for 3 months, and is on Medicaid for 3 months in a 3-year period – they are considered a ‘public charge under the new rule. 


What does it mean 

  • Much greater scrutiny of applicants for Green Cards 
  • More discretion for USCIS 
  • Longer list of public benefits seen as negatives 
  • Additional form (I-944)  
  • Possibility to post bond (min. $8,100)  


Who is not affected? 

  • Green card holders in the U.S. (incl. renewals) 
  • Naturalization applicants 
  • Refugees & asylees 
  • Special Immigrant Juveniles 
  • U-visa (crime victims) 
  • VAWA self-petitioners 
  • T-visa (trafficking victims) 
  • TPS –Temporary Protected Status 
  • DACA renewers 

What public benefits are considered? 

  • Long term care institutionalization 
  • Cash benefits: SSI, TANF, General Assistance 


  • SNAP - Food stamps 
  • Section 8 and public housing 
  • Medicaid 

What public benefits are not considered? 

  • Medicaid:  
    • for children <21 yrs 
    • for emergencies 
    • during pregnancy 
  • WIC (Women, Infant, and Children Nutrition Improvement Program) and CHIP (Community Health Improvement Program) 
  • School-based programs 
  • Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services 
  • Non-federally funded programs (housing, health) 
  • Affordable Care Act insurance 
  • Social Security and Medicare 
  • Energy assistance 
  • Pell Grants and student loans 
  • Worker’s Comp and Unemployment insurance 
  • Tax-related cash benefits

and … benefits received prior to Feb. 24, 2020  

What are other negative factors? 

  • Household income <125% of Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG)

    • e.g., $21,550 for 2 persons, $32,750 for 4 persons 
  • Health issues and no health insurance 
  • Lack of basic English proficiency 
  • Less than high school education 
  • Request for fee waivers on immigration applications 
  • Low credit score, bankruptcies, no assets 
  • Too old (>61), too young (<17) 

What are some positive factors?  

  • Household income >250% of FPG 
    • e.g., $43,100 for 2 persons, $65,500 for 4 persons 
  • Authorized to work and currently employed 
  • Primary caregiver 
  • Has health insurance 
  • Prime working age (18-61) 
  • Substantial assets 


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