Public Charge Updates & Resources

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UPDATE as of March 9, 2021: 
USCIS has stopped applying the Public Charge Final Rule to all pending applications and petitions as of March 9, 2021. USCIS has removed content related to the vacated 2019 Public Charge Final Rule from the affected USCIC forms and has posted updated versions of affected forms.

What is Public Charge?

The "public charge assessment" is used by immigration officials to decide whether a person can enter the country or apply to adjust his/her status to get a green card (permanent residency). A person could be deemed a public charge if they are likely to become primarily dependent on the government for support. Being considered a public charge is grounds for inadmissibility; meaning, an immigrant will not be allowed to enter or stay in the country for this reason.

Public Charge Rule Change

Effective February 24, 2020, the federal government redefines the Public Charge assessment and expands the public benefits considered in the determination. Individuals will be required to disclose their application for or use of certain benefits as part of their immigration application. An immigration attorney can advise what public benefits must be disclosed as part of the processing. Receiving public benefits is just one of a variety of factors that will be used for immigration decisions. The immigration officer must also consider the "totality of circumstances" and review factors such as age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills when making a public charge determination.

The rule change includes the following public benefits:

  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (CalFresh)
  • Most forms of Medi-Cal (for those age 21 years old and above)
  • Public housing and Section 8 assistance
  • In-Home Supportive Services or IHSS (for those age 21 years old and above)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • CalWORKs or TANF cash assistance
  • Public assistance for long-term care in an institution

Certain groups are exempt from the public charge determination:

  • Refugees, Asylees, T visa holders, U visa holders, VAWA recipients and self-petitioners, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and Special Immigrant Juveniles;
  • Green card holders
  • Immigrants without legal status

What You Need to Know

  • The rule does not apply to green card holders and those applying to become a US citizen.
  • The rule does not include WIC, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), subsidized school lunches, food banks, shelters, and other programs.
  • The rule does not change the eligibility for public benefit programs.
  • Use of public benefits by U.S. citizen children and other family members are generally not considered; immigration officials will consider only public benefits received directly by the person applying for change of status.

Immigration Resources

Every situation is different. Contact a legal services agency if you have questions about the new federal policy and immigration case. To find a list of qualified immigration providers, go to California Department of Social Services website.

Screening Tool
This screening tool helps immigrant families and providers get the basic information they need about the public charge rule. With simple information in multiple languages and clear prompts, this tool asks a series of questions that help immigrants understand how using public benefits may affect immigration status, which benefits are safe to use, and when to seek legal advice. To access this screening tool, go to