Public Charge Proposal

The federal government announced a new proposal related to when certain immigrants might be considered a "public charge" for immigration purposes. If this proposal is adopted, it would bar some immigrants from permanent residence (also known as a green card) or a visa if they use certain public benefits or the federal government believes they will likely rely on public benefits in the future.

This page contains general information about the proposal, how New Yorkers can get further information and assistance, and how to make their voices heard. The information below is for general educational purposes and is not legal advice.

The public was able to comment on this new proposal until December 10, 2018. All New Yorkers regardless of immigration status were able to make their voice heard by submitting a comment directly to the federal government.

It is important to know

  • This is a proposal, not a final change. This page will be updated if it becomes final.
  • This proposal would not change eligibility requirements for public benefits programs.
  • Not all immigrants and their families would be subject to this proposed regulation. Refugees, asylees, applicants for U or T visas, VAWA self-petitioners, Special Immigrant Juveniles, and those with certain other statuses are not subject to a "public charge" test.
  • There is no "public charge" test when applying for citizenship. This proposed rule would not change that.
  • For more information about public charge, call the New Americans Hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636 from 9 am to 8 pm, Monday to Friday.
  • To make an appointment with an immigration legal services provider, call ActionNYC at 1-800-354-0365 from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday.
  • If you are sponsoring a family member abroad for a visa, some "public charge" changes at U.S. consulates abroad may apply to you. If you have questions, please call 311 and say "Public Charge" to connect to help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click a topic, or press the enter key on a topic, to reveal its answer.

What is "public charge"? Does it apply to all immigrants?

Federal immigration law allows federal officials to deny green cards and visas if they find that an applicant is likely to become a "public charge."

Under current rules, a "public charge" is an immigrant who is likely to rely primarily on cash assistance or long term care from the government for subsistence (i.e. survival). The proposed rule would define a "public charge" as an immigrant who has received or is likely at any time in the future to receive certain specified public benefits. Certain immigration statuses are exempt from the "public charge" test, or may be eligible for a waiver when applying for a green card or visa.

There is not a "public charge" test in the citizenship application process.

Does the proposed "public charge" regulation change eligibility requirements for public benefits?

No. Eligibility requirements for public benefits and programs have not changed as a result of the proposed "public charge" regulation.

Doesn't the federal government already have a "public charge" test?

Yes. The federal government has proposed to change the current "public charge" test, but those changes have not yet been finalized. Therefore, the current test still applies.

Under the current test, a "public charge" is someone who is likely to become "primarily dependent" on the government as their main source of support. This can be shown by their use of certain public benefits. In general, the only benefits that can be considered under the current test are:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • State and local cash assistance for income maintenance
  • Institutionalization for long-term care at government expense

In addition to use of these public benefits, federal law also requires the government to look at a number of factors – including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills – to determine whether someone is likely to become a "public charge."

Did the federal government propose changes to its current "public charge" immigration policy?

Yes. On October 10, 2018, the federal government officially published a new proposal to change the "public charge" test for immigration purposes. This proposal has not gone into effect.

The federal government is proposing to:

  • Broaden the definition of "public charge."
  • Expand the type of public benefits an immigration official may consider in applying a "public charge" test, to include more non-cash benefits, including non-emergency Medicaid (with some exceptions), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, and housing assistance (such as public housing or Section 8 housing vouchers and rental assistance).
  • Scrutinize more closely an individual’s age, education, employment history, income, assets, health conditions, among other factors, to determine whether they are likely to become a “public charge” in the future, even if they have never used benefits in the past.

I have children or family members in my household who use some public benefits. Could that hurt my immigration application?

No. Under the proposal, public benefits or programs used by one’s children or family members would not be directly counted against that individual’s attempt to obtain a green card or visa.

However, under the proposal, federal officials would look more closely at things like age, family size, household income, and assets in determining whether certain immigrants are likely to use benefits in the future.

I am a refugee. Does public charge apply to me?

No. Under both current law and the proposed regulation, there is no "public charge" test if you are a refugee, asylee, applicant for a U or T visa, VAWA self-petitioner or Special Immigrant Juvenile. There are also other statuses not listed here that may not be subject to public charge. For more information, consult an immigration attorney or call 311 and say "Public Charge" to connect to legal help.

I have questions about how "public charge" might apply to me. How can I get legal help?

For more information about public charge, call the New Americans Hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636 from 9 am to 8 pm, Monday to Friday. The hotline is free and anonymous, and help is available in over 200 languages.

To make an appointment with an immigration legal services provider, call ActionNYC at 1-800-354-0365 from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday.

Additional Resources

Public Charge Fact Sheet - Updated November 22, 2018

Evaluations and Reports

Fact Sheet: SNAP Enrollment Trends in New York City
June 2019
Download PDF here.

Expanding Public Charge Inadmissibility: The Impact on Immigrants, Households, and the City of New York
December 2018
Download PDF here.