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Public Charge

Applicants for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status are inadmissible to the United States if they are deemed likely to become public charges (INA 212(a)(4)).

What is a public charge?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines a "public charge" as an individual who is "primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense." See "Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds," 64 FR 28689 (May 26, 1999). 

Here are some examples of federal and state public assistance programs. In some cases, you can receive benefits without becoming a public charge. For instance, you and your family can use community-based programs and services, like soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and short-term shelter. Read this USCIS fact sheet to find out more about which types of non-cash and special-purpose benefits you may be able to receive without becoming a public charge. 

Is seeking treatment for COVID-19 a violation of the public charge rule?

Treatment or preventive services related to COVID-19 concerns will not negatively affect any foreign national as part of a future public charge analysis. For information on COVID-19 in the state of New York, visit the NYS Department of Health website. Read more COVID-19 immigration FAQs.

I've been laid off from my job. Will accepting unemployment benefits make me a public charge?

Unemployment is considered an earned benefit, which excludes it from public charge considerations. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirms that it does not consider unemployment benefits in the public charge inadmissibility determination. Read more in this FAQ by the immigration lawyers at Miller Mayer.

Is accepting a stimulus check a violation of the public charge rule?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not yet clarified whether accepting a stimulus check is considered a public benefit for purposes of inadmissibility. Some immigration experts believe it should not count as a violation. Read more in this FAQ by the immigration lawyers at Miller Mayer.

Proving You Will Not Become a Public Charge

When you enter the country or apply for an extension or change of status, you will need to satisfy the inspector or adjudicator that you are capable of maintaining your status and will not become a public charge.

International students and scholars must document sufficient sources of funding to cover tuition, fees, and living expenses in order to be sponsored for F-1 or J-1 status. You may also be required to demonstrate sufficient private funding when you apply for your visa so you will not become a public charge while in the United States. This funding is required because legal options for employment or for earning income to support your expenses are so limited.

Find out about on-campus work for students and employment rules for faculty and staff.