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Public Charge Screening Tool

Empire Justice Center October 04, 2019

What is “public charge”? Public charge is a technical legal term used in immigration law. It is part of a screening process used by U.S. immigration officials with non‐citizens who are applying for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, commonly also called getting a green card. If someone is considered to be a public charge or likely to become a public charge, they won’t be able to get a green card.

A new Rule on public charge was issued on August 14, 2019, and the Rule will take effect on October 15, 2019. The Rule will cause many more people to be denied green cards based on public charge, but the Rule does not apply to everyone. It is important for people to find out if the Rule applies to them, especially if they fear applying for or continuing to receive government benefits because certain benefits are treated negatively under the Rule. The new Rule will apply only to certain non‐citizens who apply for a green card on or after October 15, 2019 and will be having their interview within the U.S.* As explained in the FAQs below, the public charge rules have already changed for people seeking a visa to enter the U.S. after an interview at the U.S. Consulate in their home country.

Does public charge affect all non‐citizens? No. USCIS does not screen all noncitizens who are applying for, or want to apply for, permanent resident status, to see whether they are or may become public charges. Noncitizens in certain exempt immigration classifications (discussed on page 2, below) are not subject to a public charge screening, nor will they be after the Rule becomes effective.

Do all public benefits count for public charge? For applications for permanent resident status submitted before October 15, 2019, not all public benefits put a non‐citizen at risk of being classified as a public charge. Until the Rule goes into effect, only two types of benefits: (1) cash benefits (cash welfare, SSI); and (2) government‐funded long‐term‐institutional care (nursing home type care) are treated as an indication that the person may be a public charge and so should not be allowed to become a permanent resident.

Under the new Rule, the following additional benefits will count: SNAP, federal Medicaid (with certain exceptions), Section 8/public housing. No other benefits count under the new Rule.

Overview: To assist you in answering client questions about how receiving government benefits may affect their immigration status, this packet contains the following tools:
A screening tool that staff members from community, social services, and advocacy organizations can use to help answer clients’ questions about whether receiving government benefits will affect their immigration status.
A list of frequently asked questions and answers that will help you respond to client questions relating to the receipt of government benefits and expected changes to the rules.
Lawyer referral information. Some issues require a lawyer’s expertise. If the person you are screening does not already have a lawyer and your organization does not have legal staff or partners available to answer client questions, this packet contains information about how to reach a lawyer, and in what circumstances a lawyer’s help may be especially important.

Instructions: Start by taking the client through the multi‐step screening tool:
When the person you are screening reaches a green light like this you are done screening them, and they are not at risk under current rules.* But review answers to frequently asked questions.
When you see an yellow light like this go to the next step.
When you see a red light like this refer the client to a lawyer.
When you see *ASK*, it means you may need to ask a lawyer for help during the screening.

What if the person does not want screening but is concerned about how receiving benefits may affect their
status? Persons concerned about public charge should go through the screening first to understand their level of
risk before seeking a legal consultation.

Public Charge Screening Tool