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What is the Public Charge Rule?

Under the public charge rule, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may deny individuals who are deemed likely to become a public charge entry into the country, visa issuance, or adjustment to lawful permanent residency status (in this context, these determinations can be referred to as “inadmissibility determinations”).

Please note that immigration law is subject to frequent legislative and regulatory changes, and the information in this guide is intended to be general and informative only.

How Public Charge Determinations Are Made 

The USCIS makes these inadmissibility determinations based on a noncitizen’s likelihood of becoming primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or long-term institutionalization at government expense. To evaluate each individual’s likelihood of becoming a public charge within that context, the USCIS examines each case by applying the following criteria: 

  • Age and Health: An applicant's age can decrease their ability to work and prospects for long-term employment. Health conditions that require extensive medical treatment or ongoing care will also factor into public charge determinations.  (especially if the individual lacks health insurance or does not have sufficient resources to cover their medical costs).
  • Income, Employment History, and Professional Qualifications: The USCIS will look favorably at applicants with a stable employment history and high earning potential.
  • Resources and Assets: If an applicant can demonstrate they have sufficient financial resources, such as assets that can cover living expenses for a substantial period of time, that will be viewed as reducing their likelihood of becoming a public charge.
  • Family Situation: The USCIS will likely consider the size and income of the applicant's family, including dependents, as a larger family size might increase the potential for becoming a public charge.
  • Education and Skills: Lack of a higher education, professional qualifications, or skills will be seen as something that would increase the likelihood of one becoming a public charge.

It is important to note that public charge determinations are not based on any single one of these factors. Instead, it involves the evaluation of the totality of each individual's circumstances. Furthermore, a finding that a person is likely to become a public charge does not automatically result in inadmissibility or denial of the application. Still, it is a significant factor among those that the USCIS will consider in making admissibility determinations. 

Exemptions From the Public Charge Rule 

Certain categories of immigrants are exempt from the public charge rule, meaning that the USCIS does not consider their likelihood of becoming a public charge when making inadmissibility determinations. The exempt categories include:

  • Refugees and Asylees: These are individuals who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
  • Victims of Certain Crimes (U Visa Holders) and Human Trafficking Survivors (T Visa Holders): These visas are for persons who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are assisting law enforcement or in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity, and for individuals who have been subjected to severe forms of trafficking due to which they are currently in the U.S., respectively.
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Petitioners: This is for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse who are filing for immigration relief independently of their abuser.
  • Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs): These are for certain minors who have been declared dependent on a juvenile court due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

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