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Public Charge and Immigration


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).

On January 30, 2020, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the public charge rule change will take effect on February 24, 2020. Per USCIS, the final rule will only apply to applications submitted on or after February 24, 2020. Usage of newly added benefit programs prior to February 24, 2020 will not be considered during a public charge assessment.

The final rule, issued in August and originally scheduled to be effective in October 2019, penalizes immigrants who use certain government programs, including some services offered through Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS). In response to the final rule, several states filed lawsuits challenging the rule changes. Federal courts granted preliminary injunctions blocking the implementation of the new "public charge" rule. The U.S. Supreme Court decided on January 27, 2020 to lift the nationwide injunction thus clearing the way for the DHS to implement the new rule changes. 

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 new 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.

The following benefits could be taken into account when decisions are made about entry into the country and adjustment of immigration status:

  • Medi-Cal (with exceptions for emergency services, and coverage of children under age 21 and pregnant women + 60 days postpartum)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Cal-Fresh
  • Public Housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Project-Based Section 8
  • Cash assistance under SSI, TANF or similar state, local or tribal programs

We advise anyone concerned about how this change may impact their immigration circumstance to review the rule and to talk to a legal expert.

CCHS and its employees cannot offer legal advice.


Who is not affected/Quién no está afectado
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Legal resources/Recursos legales