Public charge is a “test” used by immigration officials to decide whether a noncitizen will likely rely on the government for support. This decision is made when an individual applies to enter the U.S. or to adjust his or her status to become a legal permanent resident (LPR, also known as a “green card” holder).
Immigration officials look at many factors during this application process, including the applicant’s age, health, finances, and education. They also consider whether the applicant uses certain public benefits.
What happens if you are found to be a “public charge”?
If an immigration official determines that someone is likely to become a public charge, the official can deny that person entry into the U.S. or LPR status (“green card” status).
Who does the “public charge” test apply to?
Immigration officials apply the “public charge” test only to certain categories of individuals applying for visas or green cards. For example, the public charge test applies to family-based visa applicants and most employment, tourist, and education-based visa holders.
Who is excluded from the rule?
Green Card Holders
The public charge test does not apply to green card holders applying for naturalized citizenship.
It also does not apply to most green card holders seeking reentry into the U.S., unless they leave the country for more than 6 months or have certain criminal convictions.
In addition to green card holders, there are many categories of noncitizens to whom the “public charge” test does not apply, including:
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners
U-visa and T-visa
Special immigrant juveniles
Temporary Protected Status
Other categories of noncitizens (e.g., DACA)