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:
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:
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:
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.
Local Legal Resource
Wisconsin Screening Guide
Wisconsin Safe Program List
Does Public Charge Apply to Me?
Know Your Rights
You Have Rights: Going to the Doctor
Should I Keep My Kids Enrolled in Benefits?
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.
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.