The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information


UPDATE 7/30/2020: On July 29, 2020], the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a new temporary injunction against the DHS Public Charge rule. The order bars the implementation, application, and enforcement of the rule nationwide so long as there is a declared national emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the DOS Public Charge rule and Health Insurance Proclamation, the first decision fully addressing these policies at DOS, and it enjoined those policies indefinitely, beyond the national emergency related to the pandemic. 

The new immigration public charge rule is in effect (it began on Monday, February 24, 2020), imposing a wealth test on green card and visa applicants. For 3 years now, anticipation of this rule's implementation has caused substantial fear in immigrant communities. In addition, because immigration law is very complex, as various benefits programs are also very complex, the confluence of very complicated policies and systems has resulted in substantial confusion and misinformation.  The Department of State (DOS ) public charge rule affecting consular processing overseas also went into effect on February 24, following the denial of a TRO motion by plaintiffs in Make the Road New York et al. v. Pompeo et al. OMB has approved form DS-5540, and the FAM has now also been updated.  (Justice Sotomayor dissenting: 7 page dissent.)

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 (Green Card). 

In August 2019, the Trump Administration announced a rule that would change longstanding public charge policy.  The rule would redefine “public charge”  to include not only immigrants who receive cash benefits or need long-term care, but also people with disabilities, those deemed to have limited earning potential, and participants in many “safety net” programs used by millions of working Americans. It would make it much easier to shut out anyone earning less than 250% of the federal poverty line ($64,375 for a family of four).

The rule is not retroactive. This means that the new changes will not be used by immigration officials until after the rule goes into effect.  Further, legal challenges are being filed to stop the rule, including a lawsuit filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 12 other states. Visit our litigation tracker to learn more. 

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.


Where do I learn more?

Materials are being updated and will be added as they become available. 

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

Contact your local legal services program about public charge and other immigration issues. To find who to contact in your area, go to: Also, see the referral list below for immigration legal service organizations or the clinics list to find an immigration clinic that can speak with you about your immigration status and public charge.

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