Public Charge

Public Charge

“PUBLIC CHARGE” IS A TERM USED by U.S. immigration officials to refer to a person who is considered primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Where this consideration applies, an immigrant who is found to be “likely . . . to become a public charge” may be denied admission to the U.S. or lawful permanent resident status.


How to Talk About Public Charge with Immigrants and Their Families

This issue brief by Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign staff summarizes topline Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign messages and talking points recommended when communicating with immigrant communities.


Changes to “Public Charge” Instructions in the U.S. State Department’s Manual

Some non–U.S. citizens who seek to enter the U.S. or who seek lawful permanent resident status must show that they are not likely to become a public charge. The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) provides instructions that officials in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad use to make decisions about whether to grant a person permission to enter the U.S. as an immigrant or on a nonimmigrant visa. It does not govern decisions made by immigration officials inside the U.S. However, the FAM revision initiated by the Trump administration foreshadows other, broader changes that the administration may make. (First published Feb. 8, 2018.)

Access to Health Care, Food, and Other Public Programs for Immigrant Families under the Trump Administration: Things to Keep in Mind When Talking with Immigrant Families

At NILC, we are vigilantly monitoring the Trump administration’s changes to existing policies, including those that affect the determination regarding whether a non–U.S. citizen is likely to become a public charge. This issue brief is intended to clarify what has and has not changed with respect to the rules and policies that affect immigrants’ access to health, nutrition, and other critical programs. We invite you to use it as a resource when you speak with immigrants and immigrant families.


The publications linked to below, including Public Charge: An Overview, Federal Guidance on Public Charge, and Materials by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are based on federal guidance issued in 1999. The 1999 guidance remains in effect and applies to decisions made by immigration officials within the U.S. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is developing new proposed regulations that would change the public charge rules. USCIS is required to give the public an opportunity to comment on its proposed regulations and must respond to those comments before finalizing the rules. The proposed regulations will be published in the Federal RegisterSign up here to receive updates about public charge from the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, of which NILC is a founding member.

For information on public charge decisions made by U.S. consular officials outside the U.S., see Changes to “Public Charge” Instructions in the U.S. State Department’s Manual, above.

Public Charge: An Overview

What is “public charge”? | How does the government decide whether a person is likely to become a public charge? | What is the background of “public charge” policy? | Why is receipt of noncash benefits not subject to “public charge” consideration?

Federal Guidance on Public Charge: When Is It Safe to Use Public Benefits?

Inmigrantes y la clasificación de “carga pública”

  • National edition – Spanish (3/10, PDF)
    (Note that this Spanish-language edition is dated prior to the latest English-language edition of this document and does not incorporate the latest updates made to the English edition.)


Public Charge Fact Sheet (April 2011)

Public Charge Web Page (Sept. 2009)

Public Charge Fact Sheet (Nov. 2009)

Public Charge Q’s & A’s (Sept. 2009)

Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds
(64 FR 28689, Mar. 26, 1999; from Federal Register website)