Public Benefits and Immigration Status

Many patients fear receiving public benefits because they believe it will lead to a determination that they are a public charge. A public charge determination by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer is grounds for a person to be considered inadmissible, deported or denied lawful permanent resident status.

Who is Eligible

In reality, there are a number of groups of people AND benefits that are exempt from a public charge determination.  Below is 1) a list of exempt groups of people; 2) a list of exempt benefits; and 3) a summary of what may be considered in a public charge determination.

Exempt groups of people

Certain groups of people are exempt from a public charge determination or may apply for a waiver for public charge when applying for a green card or other benefits with USCIS. 

These groups include:

  • Refugees
  • Asylum applicants
  • Refugees and asylees applying for adjustment to permanent resident status
  • Amerasian Immigrants (for their initial admission)
  • Individuals granted relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA)
  • Individuals granted relief under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)
  • Individuals granted relief under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)
  • Individuals applying for a T Visa
  • Individuals applying for a U Visa
  • Individuals who possess a T visa and are trying to become a permanent resident (get a green card)
  • Individuals who possess a U visa and are trying to become a permanent resident (get a green card)
  • Applicants for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • Certain applicants under the LIFE Act Provisions

Why Apply

Exempt Benefits

The publicly-funded benefits that may not be considered boils down to non-cash benefits (unless used for institutionalization for long-term care) and special-purpose cash assistance.

These include:

  • Medicaid and other health insurance and health services (unless Medicaid is used for institutionalization for long-term care)
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) (All Kids)

Nutrition programs:

  • Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP))
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC)
  • The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program
  • Any other supplementary and emergency food assistance programs
  • Child Care Services
  • Energy Assistance, ie. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Emergency disaster relief
  • Foster care and adoption assistance
  • Educational assistance (such as attending public school)
  • Benefits from Head Start Act
  • Aid for elementary, secondary, or higher education
  • Job training programs
  • In-kind, community-based programs, services or assistance (ie. Soup Kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention and short-term shelter)
  • Housing Benefits (including Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans

Earned cash payments:

  • Title II Social Security benefits
  • Veterans' benefits
  • Other forms of earned benefits
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Government pensions

To Apply For

What is considered in a public charge determination?

The determination is based on the likelihood that the individual will become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. The determination boils down to the individual’s receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at the government’s expense.

It is not a clear cut determination but rather an evaluation of the totality of the circumstances taking into account a number of different factors.  Below are lists showing 1) the factors the government MUST consider, 2) the factors the government MAY consider, 3) and then which public benefits MAY be considered.

Factors the government MUST consider

 At a minimum, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer MUST consider the following factors when making a public charge determination:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Family status
  • Assets
  • Financial status
  • Education and skills
  • Resources

Factors the Government MAY Consider

Factors that the government MAY consider when making a public charge determination include:

  • Any affidavit of support filed on behalf of the individual under Section 213A of the INA
  • The individual’s receipt of certain publicly-funded benefits (see list below)

As mentioned, these factors must still be considered in the context of the totality of the individual’s circumstances, meaning in the context of the first seven required factors.

Read More

Publicly-Funded Benefits that MAY be Considered

Again, publicly-funded benefits that may be considered in a public charge determination center around cash benefits and institutionalization for long-term care.

This includes:

  • Cash assistance for income maintenance through Supplemental Security Income
  • Cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Government funds used to offset the cost of long-term care in a nursing home or mental health institution including Medicaid funds used for this purpose
  • Township General Assistance (GA) Programs
  • Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (AABD) Cash Assistance (aka. State Supplemental Payments (SSP))

Links to Important Resources

For a comprehensive list of public benefit eligibility based on citizenship status, click here.

For more information, visit the USCIS website.


Topics: Non-citizens
Tags: Immigration
Last updated September 20, 2017

« Back to browsing

Share this page

Sponsored by

  • Lloyd A. Fry Foundation
  • Boston Medical Center