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.
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.