Public Charge: What You Need to Know

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Find out here about the public charge test. This will also help in deciding if, and when, to use the public assistance benefits you or your family members need. #8123EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • The public charge test does not apply to all immigrants. It mainly affects people applying for Green Card status through a family visa petition.

  • Immigrants subject to the public charge test can safely use many benefits, including food, housing, and medical assistance (except for long-term institutional care). Their family members can use all benefits safely.

The public charge test applies to some immigrants when they apply for Green Card status or for a visa to enter the U.S. Under the test, immigration officials can turn down (deny) the Green Card or visa application if it appears likely that the applicant will become dependent on certain government benefits (will become a "public charge") in the future.

No. It mainly affects people applying for Green Card status through the family visa petition (I-130) process.

Many immigrants are not subject to the public charge test. These include:

  • asylees

  • refugees

  • self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA")

  • Most U and T visa holders and applicants

  • Special Immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan

  • people applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

  • people applying for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

  • Special Immigrant Juveniles

Under the immigration laws and regulations, immigration officials must consider the following factors in the public charge determination:

  • the applicant's income and resources (things the applicant owns)

  • the applicant's age and health

  • the applicant's education, training, and skills

  • the applicant's family status

  • the affidavit of support filed for the applicant

Immigration officials can't make a decision based on just one of these factors. They must consider all of the factors.

Immigration officials will only consider the applicant's use of:

  • Cash assistance received on an ongoing basis. This includes TANF, State Family Assistance (SFA), Aged Blind and Disabled (ABD) benefits, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • Long-term institutionalization paid for by the government. This includes things like a long-term stay in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid. It does not include incarceration, short-term rehabilitation, or home- and community- based long-term care.

Yes. Immigration officials will NOT consider your use of many benefits, including: 

  • Food assistance. This includes federal food stamps, the state Food Assistance Program, WIC, school meal programs, and pandemic EBT cards.

  • Medical assistance. This includes Washington Apple Health, Qualified Health Plans, care at community clinics, and Charity Care.The only medical assistance considered in the public charge test is long-term institutionalization paid for by the government, such as when Medicaid pays for a person to live long-term in a nursing home.

  • Housing assistance. This includes section 8, public housing, and rental assistance.

  • Benefits used by family members. Immigration officials will only consider benefits that the immigration applicant has used, not benefits used by members of that person's family.

  • Benefits that are for a special purpose, such as child care assistance, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefits, and crime victims' compensation.

  • Tax-related benefits, such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

  • COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatment.

  • Benefits that are based on earnings, including unemployment compensation, worker's compensation, and Social Security Disability.

  • One-time emergency cash benefits, such as the COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund.

Not necessarily. The public charge test may not even apply to you. Remember there are many categories of immigrants who are not affected by the public charge test.

Even if the public charge test does apply to you, immigration officials can't deny your application just because you have used ongoing cash assistance or government-funded long-term institutionalization. Immigration official should consider how long you used those benefits for, and how long ago. They must also consider all the other factors that are part of the public charge determination, including job skills or training you have, your age and health, and the affidavit of support that you filed with your application.

No. Immigration officials will not consider your family members' use of any benefits, including cash, food, and medical. Your family members can use benefits without hurting your immigration case.

No. There is no public charge test for Green Card holders when they apply for naturalization or renew their Green Cards.

However, Green Card holders who use benefits should try to limit trips outside the U.S. to less than 6 months (in a single trip). Green Card holders who use benefits and who have taken a trip outside the U.S. of over 6 months should get legal advice before applying for U.S. citizenship.

Get Legal Help

Contact Northwest Justice Project:

  • Apply online with CLEAR*

  • Facing a legal issue in King County (other than Eviction or Foreclosure)? Call 2-1-1 (or toll-free 1-877-211-9274) weekdays 8:00 am - 6:00 pm. They will refer you to a legal aid provider.

  • Facing a legal issue outside of King County (other than Eviction or Foreclosure)? Call the CLEAR Hotline at 1-888-201-1014 weekdays between 9:15 am - 12:15 pm or apply online at

  • Facing Eviction? Call 1-855-657-8387.

  • Facing Foreclosure? Call 1-800-606-4819.

  • Seniors (age 60 and over) with a legal issue outside of King County can also call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111.

Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired callers can call any of these numbers using the relay service of your choice.

Interpreters provided.


Contact Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:

Seattle Office - serving Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties: 206.587.4009 or 1-800.445.5771

Tacoma & South Unit (TSU) – serving Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Thurston, and Wahkiakum counties: 206.816.3893 or

Granger Office - serving Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Yakima, Walla Walla, and Whitman counties: 509.854.2100 or 888.756.3641

Wenatchee Office - serving Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, and Stevens counties: 509.570.0054 or 866.271.2084

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Last Review and Update: Feb 13, 2023
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