Public Charge: An Overview
“Public charge,” as defined by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS), refers to an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” The term describes people who cannot support themselves and who depend on benefits that provide cash—such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—for their income. An individual who is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident.
A number of factors are considered in determining whether an individual is likely to become a public charge. These include the individual’s age, health, income, family size, education, and skills. No single factor will determine whether an individual is a public charge. Although the government can look at whether the individual used cash welfare, it cannot make its decision based only on what happened in the past.
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