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DownloadLearn more about how the immigration process works and help you with your immigration concerns and questions. The Charleston USA Immigration Law Center is here to support you in your goal to become a United States citizen.


With immigration law being designated a public charge is a ground of inadmissibility, bar to permanent residency and reason for deportation. Public charge for immigration purposes is defined as someone who is likely to become;

"primarily dependant 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", someone,

"who cannot support himself or herself through employment, assets or the help of family and instead depends on government benefits and assistance programs."

Determining Factors

The determination of public assistance is based on a number of factors:

1. age

2. health

3. family status

4. assets

5. resources

6. financial status

7. education

8. career skills

9. whether the immigrant uses welfare programs like Supplemental Social Security (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

No factors, by itself, other than not providing an Affidavit of Support, when required, will determine an individual as a public charge. So receiving federal, state and/or local public benefits as a noncitizen does not mean you will face bad immigration consequences.

Some public assistance by noncitizens is permitted.

Emergency disaster relief programs, treatment of communicable diseases, immunizations, Food Stamps, National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program, Children's Health Insurance Programs (CHIP), Medicaid, housing benefits, child care services, adoption and foster care services, energy assistance, education assistance, job training programs and unemployment compensation are examples.

Short Term Use

Short term use of (SSI) or (TANF) does not automatically disqualify someone from permanent residency or result in deportation. But some of these examples, where cash assistance was paid, may be construed as factors to be considered. It appears the receipt of cash is a key factor in determining a public charge. Each determination is made on a case by case basis in the context of the totality of the circumstances.

Refugees and Asylees can use any benefits including cash welfare, health care, food programs and non-cash programs without hurting their chances of getting a green card.

Similarly, green card holder cannot lose their permanent residency if they or their family members use cash welfare, health care programs, food stamps, non cash programs or long term care. But they might have a problem if they leave the U.S. more than 6 months and used these programs or used these programs for pre-existing conditions during their first 5 years in the U.S.

And in general, green card holders who receive public benefits of any kind cannot be denied U.S. citizenship.

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