Public Charge and Immigration
NOTICE: March 9, 2021 Update: The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) public charge rule under the previous administration was permanently blocked. This final federal court ruling restores the United States' longstanding public charge policy. Read the California Health & Human Agency Alert here.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is utilizing public charge guidance from 1999. You can find out more information from the USCIS page about public charge here.
The USCIS will not consider participation in Medi-Cal (except for long-term care), public housing, or CalFresh as part of the public charge determination.
A reminder that medical testing, treatment and preventive services for COVID-19, including vaccines, are not considered for public charge purposes.
Public charge does not apply to all immigrants or all benefit programs. Each situation is different and there are many benefits not considered in the public charge assessment. Available to you are community agencies and resources that can provide information and advice specific to you and your family situation. Click on the tabs below for the latest updates regarding public charge, adapted from the national Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition.
We advise anyone concerned about their immigration circumstance to review the rule and to talk to a legal expert. CCHS and its employees cannot offer legal advice.
What is Public Charge
Public charge is a term used in immigration law to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) applies a public charge test when (1) a person applies to enter the U.S. or (2) when a person applies to adjust immigration status to become a lawful permanent resident (to get a green card).
An applicant considered likely to become a "public charge" is more likely than not to have their application denied. Each situation is different, and the public charge test does not apply to all immigrants. If you use one of these programs and believe the public charge rules may affect you, we strongly encourage you to seek advice from an attorney or immigration expert before dropping a benefit that you and your family need.
What public benefits are considered under the 1999 Field Guidance?
The only benefits considered are "cash assistance for income maintenance" and "institutionalization for long-term care at government expense."
- Short-term and special purpose cash payments and institutionalization for short periods of rehabilitation are not considered.
- Food and nutrition programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or "food stamps") or CalFresh are not considered.
- Housing programs, such as public housing and section 8 are not considered. Medicaid is considered only if it is used to pay for long-term care.
Who is not affected
For those who need to take the public charge determination, the use of the following programs will NOT be considered during their public charge determination:
- Emergency Medi-Cal Services
- Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Program
- CalFresh or "food stamps"
Public Charge does NOT apply to:
- Humanitarian immigrants such as refugees, asylees, domestic violence survivors, trafficking, and other serious crimes
- Special immigrant juveniles
- Certain individuals paroled into the U.S.
- Did you know that many immigrants are NOT subject to a public charge assessment? To learn about a specific situation, please visit Keep Your Benefits
- Public Charge Update: What Advocates Need to Know (March 2021)
- Should I Keep My Kids Enrolled in Health & Nutrition Programs?
- Know Your Rights! Public Charge Messages For the Community (February 2020)
- Protecting Immigrant Families
- Employment and Human Services
- Community Clinic Consortium
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- Stand Together Contra Costa
For rapid response and immigration legal services in Contra Costa County dial 925-900-5151.
- CA Department of Social Services: Immigration Services Contractors
- Catholic Charities of the East Bay
- Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach
- Bay Area Legal Aid
- Immigration Advocates
- Stand Together Contra Costa
For more information contact Office of the Director 925-957-5403.