United States Citizenship & Immigration Service adopted public charge and affidavit of support rules for family based immigrants. These immigration and public charge rules make it hard for low and moderate income immigrants to receive permanent residence (a “green card”). Public charge is a test to determine if an immigrant seeking green card or a visa, seems likely to seek public benefits in the future. If the U.S. government decides that the immigrant is likely to become a public charge, the government can deny their green card or visa application. To determine whether an immigrant can obtain a green card, the USCIS will look at the immigrant’s age, income, education, health and other facts to determine whether the immigrant is likely to become a public charge or welfare recipient while living in the United States. The new policies instruct immigration officers to scrutinize applicants more closely, holding them to a stricter standard. The new policies consider cash aid like SSI, TANF, and GA, as well as federally-funded Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California, with certain exceptions), food stamps (SNAP, or Cal-Fresh in California), and federal public housing or Section 8 housing assistance.
IF YOU ARE A GREEN CARD HOLDER (LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT)
1. Immigrants who already have a green card are not affected by public charge rule.
2. There is no public charge test to renew a green card for the immigrant.
3. It is difficult for USCIS to remove immigrants with green cards for violating the public charge rule.
4. This public charge rule could apply if a permanent resident leaves the United States for more than 180 days. If you travel abroad for more than 180 days during one trip, the government can check if you are subject to public charge rule upon returning to the United States. It is important for immigrants to speak to a trusted immigration attorney before leaving the United States for more than 180 days.
5. There is no public charge test to apply for citizenship. An immigration officer, however, might ask you questions about receiving public benefits during your interview. You should review your public benefits history with a trusted immigration attorney before applying for citizenship.
IF YOU ARE UNDOCUMENTED
1. Federal laws governing benefit programs protect the personal information that you provide to public benefit agencies. Some states, like California, have additional protections. This means that when you sign up for a public benefit, your information will not be shared with ICE.
2. You are not violating public charge rules if your family member uses public benefits.
3. Public charge rules affect immigrants who are applying for a green card through a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. It also affects some visa applicants. If you are not applying for a green card now, there may be no advantage to giving up your benefits now.
NOTE: People who plan to apply for a green card through a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident should speak to a trusted immigration attorney about their situation!
IF YOU WANT TO SPONSOR A FAMILY MEMBER TO COME TO THE U.S.
1. If you want to become a U.S. citizen, there is no public charge test to naturalize. You can become a U.S. citizen even if you have used benefits or need a fee waiver for your application.
2. If you are a lawful permanent resident there is no public charge test to renew a green card, or to lift the conditions on permanent residency (for those with 2-year green cards).
3. You can sponsor a family member and use public benefits. If you sponsor a family member, your relative will have a public charge test, not you.
4. An immigration officer will consider things like your income, assets, and whether you have used public benefits to evaluate if you can support your family member.
5. If you are sponsoring a family member and do not have enough income to support your family member, you can add a second (“joint”) sponsor who has enough income to support the family member. It’s important to review your financial documentation with a trusted immigration attorney to prepare a strong application.