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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Immigration > Right to Public Benefits

Public Benefits and Immigrant Families


Many people in immigrant families qualify for government programs that help with health care, food, or rent. Families worry that applying for benefits will impact their immigration status. Immigration regulations have changed, so using most programs you qualify for won’t affect your immigration application.

What is public charge?

Some people who apply for a green card (Lawful Permanent Resident status) or a visa to enter the United States must pass a “public charge” test. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers if the person applying is likely to become a public charge (depend primarily on the government for support) in the future. If DHS determines that a person is likely to become a public charge in the future, they can deny permission to come to the U.S. or deny an application for a green card.

Who does public charge apply to?

Public charge considerations primarily affect family-based immigrants (such as a spouse petitioning for a spouse) who apply for green cards or entry into the U.S. Most other categories of immigrants are exempt from public charge determinations.

For example, there is no public charge test for the following categories of immigrants:

  • Asylees
  • Refugees
  • U or T visa applicants and holders (human trafficking or victims of crimes)
  • VAWA self-petitioner (Violence Against Women Act)
  • People seeking or granted SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status).

There is no public charge test when an immigrant applies for the following:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Green card renewal
  • Asylum, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), TPS (Temporary Protected Status), or DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) initial applications and renewals.

Many more immigration categories are also exempt, so it is important to seek legal advice in determining whether public charge will apply to you if you do not fit into one of the above categories.

Which benefits are considered?

The only benefits considered are 1) cash assistance from WorkFirst New Jersey TANF/GA and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and 2) Long-term institutional care at government expense.

Only benefits received by the person applying for lawful permanent resident status are considered. DHS does not consider benefits used by other family or household members.

The following benefits are not considered in a public charge test.  Applying for them will not impact immigration status.

Health Care

NJ FamilyCare (Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program), Emergency Medicaid, state and local health care programs (for services other than long-term care)
Other health coverage, including subsidies for insurance purchased through GetCoveredNJ, and other healthcare exchanges

Food Assistance

  • SNAP (food stamps)
  • WIC
  • School meal programs
  • Food banks, food pantries, etc.


  • Subsidized housing programs, such as Section 8 and public housing
  • COVID-19 rental assistance
  • Shelters

Tax credits & stimulus payments

COVID-19-related testing, prevention, and treatment

Other assistance programs (not-cash based)

Cash benefits based on work or earnings

  • Social Security
  • Retirement
  • Pensions
  • Veterans Benefits

Even if public charge is considered, DHS will consider all of the circumstances

If the public charge test applies to an individual, DHS officials will look at all of their circumstances when reviewing their application, including their affidavit of support. An affidavit of support is a contract that a sponsor—usually a family member—signs to accept financial responsibility for an individual who is moving permanently to the U.S. Even if someone has received benefits that are considered, immigration officials will look at their whole situation to decide if they are likely to become a public charge in the future. Past use of public benefits is just one element of the public charge test of inadmissibility and can be outweighed by positive factors. The public charge test also considers:

  • Income
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Health
  • Family status
  • Affidavit of support (The income of the sponsor must be at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. See I-864P, HHS Poverty Guidelines for Affidavit of Support.)

Get information and ask questions!

For most households with immigrant members, the use of public benefits by one member will not affect the immigration status of other household members or their ability to adjust immigration status.

If you are concerned about how the public charge rule affects your immigration status or potential immigration applications, consult an attorney before applying for immigration status or withdrawing from any public assistance program. For legal advice, you can contact the LSNJLAWSM statewide toll-free Hotline online at or by calling 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).