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.

FOR THE LATEST on the “public charge” issue as it develops — including the Trump administration’s proposed rule that would put even more families at risk — 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.

Frequently Asked Questions: Proposed Changes to the Public Charge Rule

On October 10, 2018, the Trump administration published a proposed new rule that would change how immigration officials inside the U.S. decide who is likely to become a “public charge.” This FAQ answers questions about the proposed rule and what effects it would have if it were finalized.

Top 5 Things to Know About Public Charge

Versión en español | On October 10, 2018, the Trump administration published a proposed new rule that would change who is considered a “public charge.” Public charge is a term used in immigration law to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government to meet their basic needs. The new proposed rule would broaden the definition of who is to be considered a “public charge” so that it includes immigrants authorized to be in the United States who use one or more government programs listed in the proposed rule. Here are the top five things you need to know about public charge.

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 proposed regulations that, if implemented, 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.

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)