Chaired by the California Immigrant Policy Center
Thanks to the success of immigrant rights advocates from across the country in winning federal policy change, immigrants and their loved ones across California can now seek and accept medical care, food assistance, and public housing without fear or confusion about public charge consequences.
When deciding whether to grant some applicants lawful permanent resident status (also known as a “green card”), a visa, or admission into the United States, a USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) immigration officer must decide whether that person is likely to become dependent on certain government benefits in the future, which would make them a “public charge.” If the government determines someone is likely to become a public charge, they can deny admission to the U.S. or refuse an application for lawful permanent residency.
The public charge “test” does not apply to everyone; many categories of immigrants are exempt. Also, it is based on a “totality of circumstances,” meaning a person’s entire life situation is considered, not just their use of benefits. Therefore, past receipt of benefits would not automatically lead to a denial on public charge grounds.
Most public benefit programs available to Californians do not impact immigration status. USCIS will not consider participation in Medi-Cal (except for long-term care), public housing, or CalFresh as part of the public charge determination. Similarly, medical testing, treatment and preventive services for COVID-19, including vaccines, are not considered for public charge purposes.
The only benefits considered in a public charge test are long-term cash assistance (like SSI or CalWORKS) or Medi-Cal services for long-term institutional care (such as living in a nursing home covered by Medi-Cal). Short-term and special purpose cash payments (e.g. stimulus checks) and institutionalization for short periods of rehabilitation are not considered.
Public benefits provide a safety net for Californians and are essential to helping families thrive. The best thing you can do is empower yourself with the facts. Tools like KeepYourBenefits.org (or TusBeneficiosPublicos.org) can help you assess whether public benefits could affect your immigration options. You can also seek trusted legal counsel from this directory of immigration legal service providers.
CIPC proudly chairs the California Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition (CA PIF), in close coordination with the national Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, which was formed to defend immigrants and refugees from the Trump administration’s expansion of the public charge rule. CA PIF is composed of over 75 organizations across the state, including grassroots community-based organizations, policy advocates, and service providers.
Together, the CA PIF Coalition generated broad opposition to the expansion of public charge, resulting in the eventual removal of the 2019 public charge rule. The coalition has focused its efforts to work with advocates, community members, and state and local government agencies in California to help immigrants navigate decisions around using public benefits. Now that the 1999 field guidance on public charge is back in place, CA PIF will continue its efforts to educate immigrants on how to access available public benefits and advocate for a more inclusive safety net for all Californians. Want to join the CA PIF? Sign Up for our coalition email list.
Help us continue CIPC’s groundbreaking work on behalf of immigrants and refugees in California.