The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information


What is "public charge"?

The “public charge” test has been part of federal immigration law for decades. It is designed to identify people who may depend on government benefits as their main source of support. If the government determines someone is likely to become a “public charge,” the government can deny admission to the U.S. or refuse an application for lawful permanent residency. 

The White House is reviewing a proposal that would change longstanding “public charge” policy—among other changes, the proposal would vastly expand the programs that would be considered in a public charge detemrination. These changes would force millions of immigrant families to make an impossible choice between meeting basic needs and keeping their families together in this country. 

Please note:

  • Some immigrants are not subject to the public charge determination- such as refugees, asylees, or green card holders (LPRs) seeking US Citizenship. 
  • People should assess their individual situation in deciding whether to enroll in a public benefit program.
  • There may be no advantage to disenrolling from a program at this time.
  • There are federal and state laws that protect the privacy of people who apply for or receive public benefits.

Where do I learn more, and what should I tell immigrant families?

For extensive public charge information from the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign, including a short video explaining public charge, click here.

For additional materials regarding immigrant eligibility for benefits and immigrant rights, see materials from the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Immigrants and Public Benefits training (held 5/3/18). 

Find extensive information about public charge from the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign here:ProtectingImmigrant

Contact your local legal services program if you work with a low-income immigrant who is concerned about public charge or other immigration related matters. To find who to contact in your area, go to:

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