Public Charge

Public Charge

FEBRUARY 3, 2020 — The U.S. Supreme Court has issued an order (PDF) that allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) public charge regulations to take effect, except in Illinois, where they remain blocked by a court order. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that applications and petitions filed (or submitted electronically) on or after February 24, 2020, will be adjudicated under the new regulations. The regulations add certain noncash health, nutrition, and housing benefits to the public charge assessment. Receipt before Feb. 24 of these newly added benefits will not be considered in DHS’s public charge decisions.

The Supreme Court’s decision is limited to a determination that a nationwide preliminary injunction issued by a U.S. district court in New York should be “stayed” while the litigation challenging the regulations proceeds in lower courts. (That preliminary injunction temporarily prevented DHS from implementing the new regulations.) The Court’s opinion did not address the merits of the underlying case.

As the legal fight continues, it is important for families (PDF) and service providers to educate themselves about the DHS public charge regulations, including the many immigrants who are not subject to these new rules or whose use of benefits will not be considered. We will be updating this website in the coming days. For the latest information, visit

On August 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published final regulations that would dramatically change the meaning and effect of the “public charge” grounds of inadmissibility to the United States. Unless a federal court issues an order preventing the regulations from going into effect, they will become effective on October 15, 2019.

The public charge grounds of inadmissibility have been part of U.S. immigration law since the late 1800s. Throughout that time, a person has been considered a “public charge,” for immigration purposes, if the person was primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. Under guidance in effect since 1999, a person has been considered “primarily dependent” if they received federal, state, or local cash assistance for income maintenance or were institutionalized for long-term care at government expense.

If the regulations published in August go into effect, a person will be considered a public charge if the person uses one or more of an expanded list of public benefits for a total of 12 months during a 36-month period, calculated so that the use of two benefits in 1 month counts as having received 2 months of benefits. The regulations would also add multiple standards and evidentiary factors to the assessment of whether a person is likely to become a public charge. This would make it more difficult for people with low and moderate incomes to obtain lawful permanent resident status.

FOR THE LATEST on the “public charge” issue as it develops, visit NILC news releases about new developments are available from our homepage, And follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive notifications about breaking news on this issue.


Let’s Talk About Public Charge

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.

How to Talk with Immigrants and Their Families About Public Charge Determinations Made Abroad

This issue brief summarizes topline Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign messages and recommended talking points when communicating with immigrant communities specifically about public charge determinations made by immigration officers outside the U.S.

Public Charge: A New Threat to Immigrant Families

Versión en español | The Trump administration is proposing to change the federal government’s longstanding policy on “public charge” by broadly expanding the forms of public assistance counted when making a public charge determination. This would force immigrant families to make an impossible choice between meeting basic needs and keeping their families together in this country.

TABLE: Key Provisions of Public Charge Policy Changes Compared

Proposed changes to the interpretation of the public charge doctrine have created fear and confusion in immigrant communities. The consequences of being considered “likely to become a public charge” are severe and could result in exclusion from the U.S. or an inability to establish lawful permanent residence. The confusion is compounded by the differences between three separate agency interpretations: (1) the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, (2) the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed regulations on the public charge grounds of inadmissibility, and (3) the Justice Department’s forthcoming proposed rule on inadmissibility and deportability. This table compares key provisions of the three agencies’ policy proposals.


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) has published new regulations that, if implemented, would change the public charge rules.

Sign up here to receive updates about public charge from the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, of which NILC is a founding member. And visit for more information and to see how you can help.

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)