Public Benefits and Public Charge

Public Benefits

“Public benefits” refers to certain types of help that people can receive through the government. There are many different types of government programs, including food assistance, housing assistance, health programs, and other types of help for low-income families. For information on immigrant eligibility for COVID-19 programs, see our COVID-19 page.

Do you need immigration status in order to receive public benefits? What about other services?

  • Some public benefit programs require people to have certain types of immigration status in order to get help, but some do not. Many County programs do not require immigration status. There are also nonprofit organizations that provide help to the community (including food pantries, medical clinics, etc.) that do not require immigration status. If you are struggling and need help, it is important to find out what public benefit programs and other services you might qualify for.  See our Get Help pages for information on different types of services.  Many of the resources listed are offered by nonprofit organizations which do not require immigration status in order to receive services.

To find out what public benefit programs you might qualify for, you can:

Immigrant Eligibility for Public Benefit Programs

Immigrant eligibility for public benefits is a very complicated topic which requires specialized knowledge of benefit programs and some immigration law concepts. The resources below are mainly geared towards service providers.

Public Charge

Some people who apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence) or a visa to enter the U.S. must pass a “public charge” test. This test looks at whether the person is likely to rely on government assistance to survive in the future. When deciding whether a person is likely to be a “public charge,” Immigration officials will look at all of a person’s circumstances, including their: age, income, health, education or skills (including English language skills), and their sponsor’s affidavit of support or contract. They can also consider whether a person has used certain public benefit programs.

Many people are afraid of receiving public benefits because they are afraid that they will be considered a “ public charge,” and it will have a negative impact on their immigration status. It is important to know the information below, and talk to an attorney about your case so that you can get the help you need for you and your family. See our Immigration Legal Services page for information on where to get a consultation about public charge and any other questions.

Important Facts About Public Charge

  • Public charge does NOT apply to all immigrants.
    • Refugees, asylees, survivors of trafficking, domestic violence and other serious crimes, Special Immigrant Juveniles and other “humanitarian” immigrants are not affected.
    • Lawful permanent residents/green card holders are not affected unless they leave the US for over 180 days and seek to re-enter the country.
    • There is NO public charge test when an immigrant applies for the following: U.S. citizenship, green card renewal, asylum, DACA, or TPS.
  • The “ New Public Charge Rule” that was being considered during the Trump Administration is NOT in effect . The " old” rule which is in place now is very limited.
  • Most public benefit programs are NOT considered in the Public Charge test.
    • The ONLY public benefits that Immigration officials may consider when deciding whether someone is likely to be a public charge are: regular cash assistance (eg, SSI, TANF), or long-term institutionalized care paid by the government.
  • COVID-19 testing and vaccination are NOT considered public charge.
  • If undocumented parents have children with immigration status (for example, if they were born in the U.S.), they can apply for certain benefits for their children without it impacting their own immigration status. It is always best to speak with an attorney about your specific situation.
  • If you would like to speak with an attorney about public charge and whether certain public benefits would impact your immigration case, see our Immigration Legal Services page and enter “Consultation” in the FIND box to find out where to get a free or low-cost legal consultation.

Get More Information About Public Charge, Including Community Education Materials