Some people who apply for a green card (lawful permanent resident status) or a visa to enter the U.S. must pass a “public charge” test, which looks at whether the person is likely to depend primarily on government services in the future. Immigration officials look at all of a person’s circumstances, including their age, income, health, education or skills, family situation, and their sponsor’s affidavit of support or contract.
In the past few years, the law about “public charge” has changed several times, leaving families confused about what it all means for them. The law changed again in March 2021, making it easier for most families to pass the public charge test.
Under the new public charge rule in 2021, using the following government programs will not affect immigration status or immigration application:
- Medicaid (except long-term institutional care), ACA, NC Health Choice, free or sliding scale clinics, and all other healthcare
- COVID testing, treatment, and vaccines
- SNAP (food stamps)
- Earned Income Tax Credit and child tax credits
- Stimulus checks from the IRS
- Pandemic-related one-time financial assistance
- Public housing
- Free or reduced price school lunches and P-EBT
- Food banks or shelters
The only public benefits that are considered negatively in the public charge test are:
- Cash assistance programs that provide on-going payments (In North Carolina, those programs would include SSI payments for disabled persons and TANF monthly cash assistance)
- Long-term institutional care at government expense
Immigration generally only considers these programs negatively if the immigrant who wants to apply for status in the future are using them. If children or other household family members are using them, they are only considered negatively if those benefits are the only source of income for the entire household.
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