Updated May 2021

What is Public Charge?

The public charge test applies when someone applies for a visa to enter the U.S., when an individual in the U.S. applies to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (i.e. Green Card Holder) or when a Lawful Permanent Resident re-enters the U.S. after being abroad for more than 6 consecutive months. This test looks at whether someone is more likely than not to become “primarily on the government for subsistence.” The test considers if the applicant’s use of federally funded Medicaid for long-term institutional care and use of cash assistance for income maintenance (e.g. SSI, TANF). If a person meets this definition and is deemed likely to become a public charge, his or her application may be denied.

What has changed?

On March 9, 2021, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, removed the 2019 public charge rule, which expanded benefits considered in a public charge determination.  The previous public charge rules from 1999 are in effect as of March 9, 2021. See CKF’s Public Charge Timeline for a complete history of the changes.

Who does a public charge test apply to?


Does apply to:

  • People applying for a visa to enter the U.S. temporarily or permanently
  • People applying for Lawful Permanent Resident status (i.e. Green Card)
  • Lawful Permanent Residents who reenter the U.S. after being abroad for more than 6 consecutive months


Does not apply to:

  • People applying for U.S. Citizenship, Green Card renewal, or DACA renewal
  • Refugees, asylees, and people with TPS, U or T Visa, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status*
  • Certain people paroled into the U.S.
  • Active duty service members, their spouses, and children


*The use of benefits when in these immigration categories does not count against a person when later applying for a Green Card.

What is changing?

The current rules as ones from 1999, which had been in effect before the 2019 changes. The 2019 rule expanded the public benefit programs that can be considered in a “public charge” assessment and adds specific factors to the “totality of circumstances” test. Now, officials can only consider use of cash assistance for income maintenance and government funded long-term institutional care in the public charge assessment. Benefits used by a family member of an applicant cannot be considered.

Why is this important and what are the next steps?

Fear and confusion have resulted in a ‘chilling effect’ in which many immigrants and families of immigrants have disenrolled from and decided not to enroll in health coverage. The public charge test does not apply to many of those individuals; however, fear is keeping them from accessing important health benefits. See CKF’s Key Points for Assisters to Help Clients Understand Public Charge and Talking with Clients about Public Charge Concerns blog post for tips about helping clients who are worried about public charge.

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