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Immigration Rules: How is the Public Charge Rule Affected by COVID-19?



What is public charge?

For over 100 years, whenever an immigrant has applied to enter the U.S. or stay in the country permanently, an immigration official has evaluated whether the immigrant is likely to become a “public charge.” Being a “public charge” is defined generally as someone who depends on the government for their basic needs.

A new rule about how the U.S. government determines whether someone is likely to become a public charge went into effect on February 24, 2020. Under the new rule, immigration officials can look at many aspects of the immigrant’s life, including his or her income, assets, credit score, education, work history, ability to speak English, and past receipt of public benefits. Based on that information, the immigration official then determines whether the immigrant is likely to receive certain public benefits for more than a total of 12 months in any 36-month period of time.

If the immigration official thinks that the immigrant is likely to receive public benefits for that amount of time, the official can deny the immigrant’s application to enter the U.S. or become a lawful permanent resident.

Does public charge apply to all immigrants?

No. It does not apply to the following groups of people:

  • people who are applying for, or who have already received, U or T visas (usually victims of violence or human trafficking)
  • people who are applying for, or who have already received, VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) status
  • people who are applying for, or who have already received, SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status)
  • people who are applying for, or who have already received, asylee or refugee status
  • people who are already lawful permanent residents and are applying to beS. citizens

What if my U.S. citizen child receives public benefits?

If a US citizen child receives public benefits, but the immigrant parent does not, the child’s receipt of public benefits does NOT negatively affect the parent’s application to enter the U.S. or become a lawful permanent resident. In other words, an immigration official cannot use the child’s receipt of public benefits as a reason to decide that the parent is likely to be a public charge.

If you are concerned about whether your child should receive public benefits, please contact Legal Aid or talk to an immigration attorney before dis-enrolling your child from the program(s).

Do immigration officials consider all public benefits when deciding whether someone is a public charge?

No. Some benefits do NOT count when deciding if an immigrant is a public charge.  Immigration officials are not allowed to consider the following:

  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Emergency Medicaid
  • Medicaid for pregnant women
  • Medicaid used by children under 21 years of age

An immigration official cannot use an immigrant’s receipt of any of these benefits as a reason to decide that the immigrant is likely to be a public charge.

If I get tested or treated for COVID-19 and it was paid for by Medicaid or another public benefit, does that mean that I will be found to be a public charge?

No. If an immigrant is tested for, receives treatment for, or receives preventative care (such as a vaccine) related to COVID-19, even if the payment for the service is provided by a public benefit such as Medicaid, an immigration official may not use that as a reason to determine that the immigrant is a public charge.

If I receive medical care at a reduced rate, or for no cost, through a local hospital’s financial assistance program (like MetroHealth’s “rating” program), does that mean I will be found to be a public charge?  

No, these kinds of programs are not public benefits and immigration officials cannot use your participation in such a program to determine that you are a public charge.

Where can I get help with health concerns related to COVID 19 for me or my family?   

You can call MetroHealth’s support line at 440-59-COVID (440-592-6843).

 

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