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Public Charge

What Is Public Charge?

Immigration officials use the term “public charge" or "public charge test." The public charge test is used to decide whether a person can enter the United States (U.S.) or qualify for U.S. lawful permanent resident status (receive a green card).

Under the 2022 rule, immigration officials would consider a noncitizen a “public charge" if they are likely to rely on the government for things like:

  • Cash assistance, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other state, Tribal, territorial or local cash assistance programs (often called “General Assistance" programs).
  • Long-term care the government pays for people living in institutions, such as nursing homes or mental health facilities.

The public charge test looks at all the person's circumstances, not just one thing.

Noncitizens can safely get public health, nutrition, housing benefits and Medicaid (other than for long-term institutionalization). This includes COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines covered by the Oregon Health Plan. These benefits are not part of the public charge test.

For more information, please refer to the resources below and visit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) Public Charge Resources page.

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Individuals concerned about how public benefits might affect their immigration status should ask an immigration attorney for help.

​This test is based on the person's:

  • “Age; health; family status; assets, resources, and financial status; and education and skills," as required by federal immigration law;
  • Completed Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support), filed on the person's behalf when required by federal immigration law;
  • Past or current receipt of cash assistance and government-paid long-term institutional care.​

​This test does not consider:

  • Benefits received by the person's family members.
  • Non-cash benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicaid (other than for long-term care in an institution), housing benefits, vaccines and testing for communicable diseases, or other supplemental or special purpose benefits.​

Know the Facts

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On August 12, 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it had finalized a new public charge rule. The new rule expanded the definition of “public charge" to include people who use nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and many types of Medicaid for adults. The new rule could have made it harder for some immigrants who rely on certain government benefit programs to get lawful permanent residency if they are found to be a "public charge."

Learn more in OHA's Public Charge webinar (Oct. 8, 2019):

​On January 27, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the expanded Public Charge rule was no longer “blocked." It could go into effect while lawsuits challenging the expanded rule work their way through the courts. 

  • The new Public Charge rule became effective starting February 24, 2020, everywhere in the U.S. 
  • The rule was not retroactive. This means no one was held to the new rule until February 24, 2020.

​On March 13, 2020, USCIS announced it would not consider testing, treatment, or preventive care (including vaccines) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge determination. This includes care paid for by Medicaid, also known as the Oregon Health Plan.​

​A judge issued new injunctions July 29, blocking the expanded Public Charge rule during the COVID-19 pandemic. This allowed immigrant communities across Oregon and the rest of the country to access critical health care and public benefits during the pandemic.​

USCIS stopped applying the expanded Public Charge rule to all pending applications and petitions March 9, 2021. USCIS removed content related to the expanded rule from its forms.​

​The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the expanded Public Charge rule is no longer in effect. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is applying the policy that was in place before the expanded Public Charge rule took effect. This means DHS does not consider Medicaid benefits, nutrition assistance or housing assistance as part of public charge determinations. Learn more from this summary of CMS's July 22 Informational Bulletin.

​On September 8, 2022, USCIS issued a final public charge rule that will take effect on December 23, 2022. The new rule restores the historical understanding of “public charge" that has been in effect since 1999. Between now and December 23, 2022, the U.S. government will follow the Public Charge policies that have been in effect since 1999.

The 2019 rule, which has now been vacated and is no longer in effect, resulted in a drop in enrollments in health and wellness programs among individuals who were not subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility, such as U.S. citizen children in mixed-status households. The federal government's new rule avoids these effects by formally codifying the historical understanding of the term.


Call the Oregon Public Benefits Hotline at 1-800-520-5292.

Find an immigration attorney online through the Immigration Lawyer Search or National Immigration Legal Services Directory.

Some Oregon residents may be eligible for free representation at Portland Immigration Court through Equity Corps of Oregon.

Find more resources on the Protecting Immigrant Families website