public charge

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Public charge is the receipt of public benefits by an alien which could render them ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(4), “any alien who. . . is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.” 8 U.S.C. § 1103 delegates the power to administer and enforce immigration laws to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), so they have the power to define “public charge” through regulations

Under a 2019 regulation, 84 FR 41292, any “alien who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period” would generally be ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident.”

In 2021, however, USCIS stopped enforcing the 2019 rule, finding it “was neither in the public interest nor an efficient use of limited government resources.” Instead of the 2019 rule, USCIS will apply the public 1999 Interim Field Guidance. That rule defines “public charge” as “an alien who has become (for deportation purposes) or who is likely to become (for admission/adjustment purposes) primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” This means that USCIS will not consider an applicant’s receipt of Medicaid (except for long-term institutionalization at the government’s expense), public housing, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination. 

[Last updated in October of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]