Current Immigration Rules and Public Benefits (Public Charge)

Updated March 30, 2020

The federal government has changed the public charge rule. This rule started February 24, 2020 and 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.

Looking for information about COVID-19 and public benefits? Click here

If you have a status listed below, you can safely use public benefits:

  • 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

  • Members and families of the U.S. Armed Forces, Ready Reserves, or military serving in active duty

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. 

 

Do you have an immigration status not listed above?

If you apply for or change your status:

Immigration only looks at the benefits you use, not your children or other family members. 

Immigration will only look 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.

 

If you use other benefits not listed above, it will not affect your immigration status.

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

Coronavirus or COVID-19 and Public Benefits:

 

The following benefits are safe for immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Unemployment benefits

  • Test and treatment programs for COVID-19

  • Cononavirus stimulus checks

  • P-EBT food assistance (comes on a white debit card)

  • Take and go school meals

  • Free Internet for kids

  • Mortgage relief programs

  • Student loan programs

Using any of these benefits won't hurt your chances of getting a green card or U.S. citizenship.

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)

 

Using Public benefits does not automatically make you a public charge. 

Immigration looks at all of these factors for public charge:

  • Age

  • Health

  • Family size

  • Work, skills and education

  • affidavit of support (letter from your sponsor)

  • Assets, Income and 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.

Resources:

 

Local Legal Resource

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Wisconsin Screening Guide

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Wisconsin Safe Program List

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Does Public Charge Apply to Me?

Know Your Rights

You Have Rights: Going to the Doctor

Should I Keep My Kids Enrolled in Benefits?

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Looking for materials in other languages?   The Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign (https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/know-your-rights/) has resources in Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Spanish and Vietnamese

Free Legal Services. Call to see if you qualify.

Low-Cost

International Institute of Wisconsin
Free walk-in services available on Fridays from 9a.m. - 11 a.m.
at 1110 North Old World Third Street, Suite 420, Milwaukee, WI
Bring your own interpreter, if needed

Judicare - Call 800-472-1638

Serves 33 northern Wisconsin counties. Wausau, WI. 
Free interpreters.

Rise Law Center - Call 608-256-1015

Free services for victims of abuse and trafficking. Sliding scale fees
available for others. Madison & Janesville, WI. English and Spanish

Community Immigration Law Clinic

Call 608-257-4353

If you need an interpreter, call and leave a message. Free walk-in 
services on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month from 2p.m. - 5p.m.
at 944 E. Gorham St. Madison, WI

Centro Hispano of Dane County - Call 414-342-3000

Free legal consultations on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each
month. Call for an appointment. English and Spanish.

Sunshine Legal Clinic - Call 608-616-0539

Free legal consultations on the 1st Thursday of each
month from 5-7P.M. 1632 West Main St. Sun Prairie, WI

Civitas Law Group - Call 414-949-5266

Consults $20 
Milwaukee, WI 
English & Spanish

Low-Cost Services:

Catholic Multicultural Center of Madison -

Call 608-441-0114

Consults $0-$50 - Madison, WI
English, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Portuguese. Interpreters
available for other languages.

Low-Cost Services:

World Relief of Fox Valley - Call 920-231-3600

Consults $50 - Oshkosh, WI : Appleton, WI
Bring your own interpreter

Low-Cost Services:

Catholic Charities of La Crosse – Call 608-782-0710

Consults $0-$50 - La Crosse, Eau Claire, & Wausau, WI

English and Spanish

Low-Cost Services:

Catholic Charities of Green Bay – Call 920-272-8234

Consults $0-$50 - Green Bay, Appleton, & Manitowoc, WI

English and Spanish

Low-Cost Services:

Centro Hispano Immigration Program – Call 608-255-3018

Madison, WI

English and Spanish

Low-Cost Services:

 

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.

Madison Health
Insurance Help
(608) 261-1455
Milwaukee Health 
Insurance Help
(414) 270-4677
Administration
Office
(608) 262-2618
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Covering Wisconsin does not discriminate on the basis of age, race/ethnicity, religion, physical appearance, gender, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, national origin, cultural differences, arrest or conviction record, military participation, or political beliefs.