Recently, news coverage of "public charge" laws have increased due to the revisions proposed by the current Administration. But what is public charge and how do changes in the law affect immigration policy today?
What is Public Charge?
The "public charge" rule has been in place for decades and is used in immigration law to deny an individual's application for permanent resident status if they are determined likely to be dependent on the government for support. Under current policy, the public charge test considers an individual's health, age, employment, skills, education, family and the individual's use of either cash assistance benefits (i.e. General Relief and SSI) or government paid institutionalization for long term care.
How is Public Charge Changing?
On September 22, 2018 the Trump Administration proposed an expansion to how public benefits would apply to the public charge rule. The new rule redefines public charge as a person who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months total within any 36 month period. The proposed law also expands the definition of public benefits to include non-cash benefit programs such as:
- SNAP/CalFresh (food stamps)
- Federally funded Medicaid/Medi-Cal for adults over 21 (excluding select populations)
- Section 8 voucher programs/Rental Assistance
- Public Housing
Each public benefit is tallied separately towards the 12 month limit, meaning that if two benefits were received in a single month, this would count as two months.
The final ruling reflecting these changes was to become law on October 15, 2019. Multiple federal courts issued preliminary injunctions to block the rule from going into effect. As of November 1, 2019, the delay is still in effect to prevent the expansion of public charge rules for those applying within the United States. Immigrants seeking visas from outside the U.S. have different rules that may apply. It is important to note that if the new rule does become law in the future, it will not apply retroactively.
Who is Impacted by Public Charge Rule?
Not all immigrants are subject to public charge. When in doubt, it is ALWAYS best to seek individual legal counseling to determine if public charge rules may apply. The non-profit Protecting Immigrant Families offers a general guide to understand if the law is likely to affect your immigration status. This guide overviews the points below:
PUBLIC CHARGE: DOES THIS APPLY TO ME?
From Protecting Immigrant Families (Updated October 24th, 2019)
- Are you and your family members U.S. Citizens? Public charge does NOT apply to you. You should continue to enroll in programs you are eligible for.
- Do you and your family members already have green cards? Public charge and any changes under new rules rule WILL NOT impact you when you renew your green card or apply to become a U.S. Citizen. However, if you plan to leave the country for more than 6 months, it is a good idea to talk with an immigration attorney.
- Are you applying for or have one of the following statuses? TPS, U or T Visa, Asylum or Refugee status, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status? The public charge test does NOT apply to all immigrants, including the categories listed here. If you already have or are in the process of applying for one of these immigration statuses, you can continue to use any government programs that you qualify for.
- Does your family plan to apply for a green card or visa from inside the United States? Right now, changes to public charge rules only apply to immigrants who have applications processed outside the United States. For those applying inside the United States, only the use of cash assistance and long term care programs will be considered in your public charge test. You should continue to use the health, housing and nutrition programs you are eligible for.
- Does your family plan to apply for a green card or visa from outside the United States? If you or a family member will have a visa or green card application processed abroad, new rules may apply to you. You should talk with an expert for advice on your case before making any decisions
See the full guide from Protecting Immigrant Families online.
What About Dependents & Family Members?
False rumors have spread that the Trump Administration's proposed changes to public charge affects both those applying for resident status and their dependents or family members - including U.S. citizen children. This fear can cause applicants to unnecessarily unenroll or avoid enrolling in benefits such as food stamps (CalFresh/SNAP) and Medicaid for their children and family members.
Protecting Immigrant Families clarifies that "benefits that you get for your children or other family members are different from benefits that you may receive yourself. Including your name on your child’s application does NOT mean that you have applied for benefits for yourself."
The final rule on Public Charge will not consider benefits received by dependents or family members.
See FAQ "Should I Keep My Kids Enrolled in Health and Nutrition Programs?" for more details.
Navigating all these rules alone can be a challenge, but there is help available:
- 211 LA, "Know your Rights" webpage- provides helpful resources for all immigrants.
- LA County Office of Immigrant Affairs-their toll free helpline 800-593-8222 and physical location in downtown Los Angeles serve as a "one stop shops" for all county services. Contact the Office of Immigrant Affairs for any questions on Public Charge.
- Self-help legal centers- provide professional advice regarding public charge and other immigration related issues. Some of the agencies offering free and low cost individual legal assessment are listed below:
For more assistance finding immigration related services dial 2-1-1 now.