Proposed Changes to Public Charge: Quick Analysis and Frequently Asked Questions

Publication date: 
October 2018
Proposed Changes to Public Charge: Quick Analysis and Frequently Asked Questions

How the public charge policy is applied today

The current definition of “public charge” is a person who has become or is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. Under the current policy, which USCIS has not changed and will not change for some time, the only benefits considered in the public charge test are:

  • Cash assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and comparable state or local programs.
  • Government-funded long-term institutional care.

How the public charge policy could change

On October 10, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted a proposed public charge regulation (a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) in the federal register, asking the public to submit comments by December 10, 2018. 

If the regulation is finalized in its proposed form, it would mark a significant and harmful departure from the current policy. For over a hundred years, the government has recognized that work supports like health care, nutrition and housing assistance help families thrive and remain productive.  And decades ago, the government clarified that immigrant families can seek health care, nutrition and housing assistance without fear that doing so will harm their immigration cases. If this rule is finalized, we can no longer offer that assurance.

The proposal weighs a range of factors in deciding whether a person is likely to use certain public benefits in the future. It would weigh each of the following negatively in public charge decisions: earning less than 125% of the federal poverty level (FPL), being a child or a senior, having certain health conditions, limited English ability, less than a high school education, a poor credit history, and other factors. The proposed test would make it much more difficult for low and moderate-income immigrants to get a green card, extend or change their temporary status in the US.

Key points from the proposed rule

  • It dramatically changes the definition of public charge to apply to anyone who is likely to use more than a minimal amount of certain cash, health, nutrition or housing programs.
  • It applies a similar test to bar extensions of non-immigrant visas, and changes of non-immigrant status (e.g., from a student visa to an employment visa).