Current Immigration Rules and Public Benefits (Public Charge)

Updated January 28, 2020

The federal government has changed the public charge rule.  This rule may affect some immigrants who use public benefits.  Public benefits are government programs for people with low income that help with food, housing, cash or healthcare.  

Keep reading to see if the current rules may affect you.

If you have a status listed below, using public benefits will not affect your current or future immigration status:

  • U.S. Citizens

  • Green card holders-unless you travel outside the U.S. for more than 6 months

  • Refugee or asylee

  • Special immigrant juvenile

  • U or T Visa (visas for victims of crimes)

  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) approved self-petition

  • Relief under Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), the Nicaraguan and Central American                                       Relief Act (NACARA) or the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)

  • Afghan and Iraqi employees of US armed forces

If you have one of these statuses, you can safely use public benefits without hurting your

chance of getting a green card or U.S. citizenship. 

If you plan to petition, sponsor, or co-sponsor a family member to get a green card, using public benefits may affect their application.


Do you have an immigration status not listed above?

If you can apply for or change status from inside the U.S.:

Immigration only looks at these benefits:

  • Cash benefits from Wisconsin Works (also called W2 or welfare), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • BadgerCare Plus Healthcare (Medicaid or ForwardHealth) for adults.  Except anyone under age 21, Emergency Services for adults and children, or care for pregnant women until 60 days after the birth of the baby

  • Assisted living, nursing home, or home care paid for by a Medicaid long-term care program

  • Food assistance from FoodShare (also called food stamps, QUEST, or EBT)

  • Housing assistance from Public Housing or Section 8

Using these benefits may affect you  if you need to change your status, apply for a green card, apply for a visa, or renew a visa.  Immigration will consider the number and type of benefits used, how long you used the benefits, and how recent the use was.

Use of these benefits by family members won't affect your application.  If you use other benefits not listed above, it will not affect your immigration status.

If you must apply for or change status from outside the U.S. (consular processing):

Right now the U.S. consulates outside the U.S. use stricter rules to decide if you'll become a public charge.  If your family uses public benefits and will need to apply for a green card or visa from outside the U.S., talk to an immigration lawyer to better understand how using benefits may affect your family's immigration status.

Click here for a list of low-cost and free legal services in Wisconsin.

What is public charge?

Public charge is someone who the government believes is likely to become dependent on the government for basic needs.

If someone is considered a public charge by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or U.S. Department of State, this can affect their future eligibility to:

  • Gain a visa to enter the U.S.

  • Gain permanent residency (a “green card”)

  • Change or renew their status (does not apply to green card holders or applications for citizenship)

Immigration looks at these factors for public charge:

  • Age

  • Assets and income

  • Health

  • Family size

  • Work, skills and education

  • affidavit of support (letter from your sponsor)

  • Public benefit use

Immigration will consider the number and type of benefits used, how long you used the benefits, and how recent the use was. 

What are public benefits?

Public benefits are government programs for people who have low-incomes. Public benefits help with food, housing, cash assistance or healthcare.



Local Legal Resource


Wisconsin Screening Guide


Wisconsin Safe Program List


Public Charge and Healthcare Benefits


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Centro Hispano Immigration Program – Call 608-255-3018

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Who we are:


The Wisconsin Collaboration on Immigrants and Public Benefits came together in February 2019 to discuss the troubling, rising level of fear among their immigrant clientele. Our aim is to develop and circulate information to dispel myths, reduce confusion, and promote the safety and value of accessing supportive, means-tested benefits for those who are eligible.

This stakeholder group continues to grow and consists of public immigration lawyers and paralegals from Legal Action Wisconsin and End Domestic Abuse, and professionals from community-based and non-profit organizations such as Wisconsin Primary Healthcare Association, Covering Wisconsin, community health centers, and community agencies who provide direct services to immigrant populations. Each agency and representative comes to the table with a unique perspective of working with immigrant clientele while also sharing a recognition of the multiple barriers this community faces in achieving physical, mental, and financial well-being.

Updated October 15, 2019

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