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The New Public Charge Rule – What You Need to Know

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

Find out here what has changed in the public charge rules. You can also read these for help deciding if, and when, to use the public assistance benefits you or your family members need. #8123EN


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Things you should know.

  • On July 29, 2020, a federal judge barred the government from using the new public charge rule the government started to use on February 24, 2020.

  • The public charge test does not apply to all immigrants.  It mainly affects people who are applying for Green Card status through a family visa petition (I-130).

  • Immigrants subject to the public charge test and their families can use a number of benefits, including most medical programs, without problems.

  • You should continue to check for updates on the public charge rules.


What has changed?

On July 29, 2020, a federal court in New York entered an order that bars the government from using a new public charge rule that went into effect on February 24, 2020.  The court’s ruling applies to all applications, not just those filed in New York. 

Specifically, the court’s order says:

  • The government cannot use the new rule to decide cases filed in the U.S. with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) as long as there is a declared national health emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;

  • The government cannot use the new rule to decide applications for visas filed with U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.  This bar is indefinite (not just until there is no longer a national health emergency due to COVID-19).

This order means that the government must use the public charge rules that were in effect before February 24, 2020.


Does the public charge test affect all immigrants?

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

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

  • asylees

  • refugees

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

  • U and T visa holders, and

  • Special Immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan.


What benefits will immigration officials consider in the public charge test?

Unless the New York court’s ruling is changed or overturned by another court, the only benefits that officials should consider in the public charge test are:

  •  Cash assistance (such as SSI or TANF).

  •  Long-term care in an institution (such as a nursing home) paid for by the government.


Can I use medical benefits safely? What about my family?

If you or your family members need medical benefits, you should use them to get the care you need.  Even if a court finally decides to uphold the government’s new rule, most medical programs are safe to use, including testing and treatment of COVID-19.  Medical benefits used by children under 21 and pregnant women, as well as medical benefits used by any family member, are also safe. 


Is the use of benefits the only thing immigration officials consider in the public charge test?

No.  Under the law, they must also look at several other factors. These include the immigrant’s:

  • income (money from work or other sources) and resources (things the immigrant owns)

  • health

  • education and skills

  • family status (including the number of family members in the home)

  • the affidavit of support filed on the immigrant’s behalf


Does the public charge test apply to Green Card holders when they apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens?

No.  There is no public charge test for Green Card holders when they apply for naturalization or when they renew their Green Cards.  However, Green Card holders who receive benefits should try to limit trips outside the U.S. to less than 6 months (in a single trip).  Green Card holders who receive benefits and 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

Visit Northwest Justice Project and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to find out how to get legal help.

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Last Review and Update: Jul 30, 2020