The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information

Date: 
08/14/2019
Author: 
MLRI

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, which is scheduled to goes into effect on Oct. 15, 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 October 15.  Further, legal challenges are being filed to stop the rule, including a lawsuit filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 12 other states.

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 Families.org

Contact your local legal services program about public charge and other immigration issues. To find who to contact in your area, go to: Masslegalservices.org/findlegalaid


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