Public Charge

This webpage provides a summary of recently published Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) regarding “public charge.” Please review the Resources section in the sidebar to the right for the full sources referenced to provide this summary.

Please note: On March 14, 2020, USCIS placed a coronavirus alert on its Public Charge page, that begins: "USCIS encourages all those, including aliens, with symptoms that resemble Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (fever, cough, shortness of breath) to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services. Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) published new federal regulations regarding “public charge,” which is an evaluation of whether a foreign national is likely to need financial support from the U.S. or state government while they are in the US. The rules may impact students and scholars who apply for admission to the U.S. for a U.S. visa, for a change of  immigration status within the U.S., adjustment of status to Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card), or for an extension of status for certain other nonimmigrant categories. Those new rules can be found here:

Current Status of the Public Charge Rules

USCIS will implement the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds final rule on Feb. 24, 2020. The final rule will apply only to applications postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after Feb. 24, 2020. When determining whether an individual is likely to become a public charge at any time in the future, DHS will not consider application for, certification or approval to receive, or receipt of certain non-cash public benefits before Feb. 24, 2020. Similarly, when determining whether the public benefits condition applies to applications for extension of stay or change of status, USCIS will only consider public benefits received on or after Feb. 24, 2020.

DOS will implement it's public charge rule beginning Feb 24, 2020DOS also released a new form DS-5540 Public Charge Questionnaire to collect relevant information from applicants for immigrant visas and, in certain circumstances, applicants for nonimmigrant visas.

Public Charge Legal Issues

Because these new rules create strong consequences for use of specific public benefits we encourage you to seek out resources or legal assistance that will assist you in making an informed choice should you decide to accept and/or apply for certain benefits that may be deemed to be part of the public charge provision. Of course, the safest course of action is to not apply for or accept benefits that will likely jeopardize your status.

Public charge determinations are outside of the scope of direct international student and scholar advising. The information Berkeley International Office is providing does not constitute legal advice, but we hope that this can offer our international student, scholar, and campus community some resources which may be helpful in understanding this complex new regulation. Students, scholars, and their families should consult an experienced immigration lawyer for assistance with any questions and requests for immigration strategy, support or representation.

Public Charge FAQ

What does it mean to be a "public charge?"

According to the DHS rule and the DOS rule, "public charge" means an alien who receives one or more public benefits "for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months)."

Additionally, applicants for admission to the U.S., for adjustment of status (Green Card), and applicants for nonimmigrant or immigrant visas must show that they are not likely at any time in the future to become a public charge, which is more complex to determine.

What public benefits ARE included in the new public charge rules?

The following programs are included in the public charge rule, and could trigger individuals accessing them to be subject to inadmissibility. According to the DHS and DOS rules, this is an exclusive list,  but note that the list doesn’t specifically name all state or local programs.

1. Any Federal, State, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance (other than tax credits), including:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI);

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); 

  • Federal, State or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called "General Assistance" at the State level, but they may have other names);

2. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (commonly known as "food stamps");

3. Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program, as administered by HUD (Housing and Urban Development);

4. Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation) under Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937;

5. Medicaid except for

  • Benefits received for an emergency medical condition 
  • Services or benefits funded by Medicaid but provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • School-based services or benefits provided to individuals who are at or below the oldest age eligible for secondary education as determined under State or local law;
  • Benefits received by an alien under 21 years of age, or a woman during pregnancy and during the 60-day period beginning on the last day of the pregnancy. 

6. Public Housing under section 9 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937.

What State of California assistance programs ARE or MIGHT BE included in the rule?

You should consult an immigration or public benefits attorney to understand possible impacts if accessing public benefits including the following:

  • CALWORKS
  • CALFRESH
  • Medi-Cal (age 21+)
  • In-Home Supportive Services

The California Health and Human Services Agency has a useful handout regarding State of California services

What benefit programs ARE NOT included in the public charge rules?

The DHS rule clarifies that the following common federal benefit programs are not included. But, students and scholars should be mindful that this is not clear under the DOS rule, and that receipt of any public benefits could be considered under the likelihood that you might become a public charge.

  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

  • Medicare

  • disaster relief

  • national school lunch or school breakfast programs

  • foster care and adoption

  • Head Start

  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

  • AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP)

  • Premium Tax Credit under the ACA; and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit.

  • Pell grants and student aid programs

  • Medicaid benefits received for an emergency medical condition 

  • Medicaid benefits received by an alien under 21 years of age

  • Medicaid benefits received by a woman during pregnancy and during the 60-day period beginning on the last day of the pregnancy.

  • Services or benefits funded by Medicaid but provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);

  • School-based services or benefits provided to individuals who are at or below the oldest age eligible for secondary education as determined under State or local law

What should I do if I am interested in a public benefit that is not on these lists?

You should consult an immigration or public benefits attorney to understand possible impacts. Berkeley International Office is not able to advise on public charge determinations.

I am filling out a form for financial assistance and it indicates I should be a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident to qualify. How should I answer about my F, J, or other non-immigrant status?

Keep in mind that individuals in F or J (or any other non-immigrant status) do not qualify for federal public benefits, in particular the ones listed under the public charge rule. In order to apply and receive aid, you would need to submit an application for the program indicating that you are a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident (Green card holder), which would be incorrect! DO NOT EVER misrepresent your U.S. immigration status, as this could have very serious future consequences, including charges of fraud.

What does it mean for me to prove that I am not likely at any time to become a public charge?

The new DHS and DOS regulations require that public charge inadmissibility determinations also consider the “totality of circumstances” including:

  • age;

  • health;

  • family status;

  • education and skills; and

  • assets, resources, and financial status.

Each of these factors is detailed in the rules and can be provided positive or negative “weight.” No one factor by itself will cause a finding of likelihood of becoming a public charge.

What if my family members received benefits, but not me?

The determination technically depends on who is applying for a visa, admission, change of status, or adjustment to Green Card. If you are applying, DHS or DOS will be considering your use of public benefits only, but if your household qualifies for public benefit programs, that could indicate that you have a low income, a possible negative factor. If your spouse is applying for a visa, admission, change of status, or adjustment to Green Card, then DHS or DOS would be reviewing their application.

Will I be deported if I use these benefits? What does it mean to be found inadmissible?

Use of benefits alone would not necessarily result in an order to be deported. But, use of benefits or being found to be likely to become a public charge could result in students or scholars being denied future admissions to the U.S., visas, change of status, or adjustment to Permanent Residence (Green Card). However, if you have misrepresented yourself, or provided fraudulent documentation to the U.S. government in order to obtain public benefits, this could be a more serious issue with legal consequences.

I am an international student, and I am experiencing financial difficulty. Am I eligible for financial support as an international student?

All F-1 and J-1 international students are required to show proof of funding in advance for support of their studies. In some cases, there are unexpected changes in a student's financial situation that require them to seek external support to continue their studies. The Berkeley International Office Financial Aid page has a list of resources available through Berkeley International Office as well as other sources that can help international students with unexpected financial challenges to complete their degree programs. We also recommend that you visit BIO during Student Drop In Advising hours to discuss your situation and learn about support resources.