Navigating the Public Charge Rule

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What Is Public Charge Rule?

Immigrants who wish to visit or live in the United States may have encountered the public charge rule. It is a test the U.S. government uses to decide if you will rely on certain government benefits in the future. The government may grant or deny you a visa or green card based on the results of this test.

The U.S. government considers several factors to assess whether an individual is likely to become a public charge in the future. These factors include:

  • Age

  • Health

  • Income

  • Assets

  • Education

  • Skills

  • Family size

By evaluating these factors, the government aims to make informed decisions regarding an individual’s potential reliance on public assistance programs in the future. If they find that you are likely to become reliant, they can deny your application or even deport you from the United States.

The public charge rule can have implications for various aspects of your life, including your immigration goals and options, financial situation, access to health care, and other services. It’s essential to understand how the rule applies to your specific situation and obtain reliable and accurate information to navigate it effectively.

At Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, we offer our clients effective and compassionate legal representation. Contact us today and speak to an immigration attorney in Texas.

Understanding the Public Charge Rule

The public charge rule became part of U.S. immigration law in 1882. The rule can affect your eligibility and chances of getting a visa or a green card. This is especially true when you have low income, health issues, or limited education.

Public charge legislation outlines the specific public benefits that are considered when determining whether an individual is likely to become a public charge. These benefits may include various forms of government assistance, such as cash assistance, housing assistance, and certain non-emergency medical services.

Understanding the list of qualifying public benefits is crucial for individuals seeking to maintain their immigration status and eligibility for certain benefits. Here are some public benefits that come with the public charge test:

Public Cash Assistance

These include:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

  • State or local cash assistance for income maintenance.

  • Food stamps, also known as special supplemental nutrition program or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


However, this does not apply to the following cases:

  • Emergency services

  • Children under 21

  • Pregnant women

  • New mothers

Housing Subsidies

These include:

  • Section 8 vouchers

  • Project-based rental assistance

  • Public housing

The Totality of Circumstances Test

The U.S. government uses the “Totality of Circumstances Test” to assess an individual’s likelihood of using the above services and, therefore, becoming a public charge. This test considers the factors mentioned earlier (age, income, health, etc.) and evaluates both positive and negative aspects of the individual’s case to make an overall decision about their situation.

Exceptions to the Public Charge Rule

The public charge rule doesn’t apply to all immigrants. Some groups of immigrants are exempt from the public charge test. They can use public benefits they’re eligible for without affecting their immigration status. These categories include the following:

Refugees and Asylees

These are people who have been granted protection in the U.S. They have experienced persecution or fear persecution in their home country. The persecution is often based on their:

  • Race

  • Religion

  • Nationality

  • Political opinion

  • Membership in a particular social group

If you are a refugee with any concerns or questions about the public charge rule. Talk to an asylum lawyer today.

Survivors of Domestic Violence or Human Trafficking

They are victims of abuse by their spouse or parent. In this case, the spouse or parent is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Others are victims of forced labor or sex trafficking.

They can apply for a special visa or green card under:

  • The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

  • The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Certain Individuals Paroled into the U.S.

These people have been allowed temporary entrance to the U.S. by immigration services. It is often for humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. They can apply for a green card if they meet certain criteria.

Public Charge Rule and Green Card Applicants

The public charge rule applies differently to different types of green card applicants. It depends on how and where they apply, who sponsors them, and what category of immigrant they are.

Applying Outside the U.S.

If you are applying for a green card outside of the U.S., you are subject to the public charge rule at two stages:

  • When you apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy

  • When you enter the U.S. with your immigrant visa.

You will have to fill out the following:

  • Form DS-5540 (Public Charge Questionnaire)

  • Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) from your sponsor, usually a family member or an employer in the US. This is to show that they can support you financially.

The consular officer will review your application. They then determine if you are likely to become a public charge. If you are, they can deny your visa or ask you to submit additional evidence or a bond.

Upon entering the U.S. with your immigrant visa, you will be inspected too. The customs and border protection officer can deny or approve your admission. This is based on how likely you are to become a public charge in the future.

Applying from Inside the U.S.

If you are applying for a green card inside of the U.S., you are subject to the public charge rule only at one stage – when you apply for adjustment of status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

You will have to fill out the following:

  • Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status)

  • Form I-944 (Declaration of Self-Sufficiency)

  • Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) from your sponsor

The USCIS officer will review your application and determine if you are likely to become a public charge.

How Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law Can Help With Public Charge Matters

Our experienced immigration lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, can provide personalized assistance with the public charge rule. We can help you in the following ways:

  • Explaining the details of the public charge rule and how it specifically applies to your case.

  • Preparing and submitting your application with careful attention to the required documentation.

  • Presenting evidence and supporting documents that demonstrate you will not rely on government assistance in the future.

  • Safeguarding your interests in case of any issues that may arise during the application process.

  • Assisting with immigration appeals and bonds, if necessary, to protect your rights.

  • Providing guidance and support for special cases, such as those involving the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Contact our friendly staff at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, for a free consultation, available in English or Spanish, and let us help you achieve your immigration goals.