Changes to Public Charge


St. Louis, September 27, 2018 — Over the weekend the current administration released proposed regulation that aims to redefine the legal term ‘public charge’ with the intent of blocking green cards for low-income immigrants.

The ‘public charge’ test has been part of the immigration process for decades. It is designed to identify people who may depend on government benefits as their main source of support. Under current law, immigrants can be prevented from obtaining a green card on public charge grounds if they have received, or are likely to receive, public benefits in the form of cash benefits or need long term care. The government must believe the immigrant is “primarily dependent” on these benefits to be declared a public charge.

Immigrants can currently avoid being deemed a public charge if their sponsor—often a family member with U.S. citizenship or a green card—submits an ‘affidavit of support’ agreeing to financially support them. The proposed regulations would no longer automatically prevent an immigrant with such a sponsor from being declared a public charge.

The draft regulations would vastly expand the definition of public charge to include not only people who receive cash benefits or need long term care, but also those who participate in numerous ‘safety net’ programs used by millions of working Americans. Programs like health care and nutrition have been recognized by the government for hundreds of years as important work supports that help families thrive and remain productive.

“Essentially, this proposal is anti-family and designed to discriminate against low-income workers. For example, U.S. Citizens and residents would no longer be able to welcome their parents into the country,” says Andrew Fitzgerald, Executive Director of MIRA. “and much needed low-income workers would not be allowed to obtain residency. It is overtly discriminatory, and we will fight vigorously to ensure that it is not adopted.”

In the proposed regulations, a public charge will be defined as an immigrant who received any public benefits at all, even if they are not primarily dependent on benefits. These non-cash benefits will now include:

· Benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps

· Section 8 housing assistance or rental assistance

· Medicaid benefits (except for emergency Medicaid or certain school or disability-based benefits for children)

· Premium and cost-sharing subsidies under Medicare Part D

· Subsidized housing under Housing Act of 1937.

See Information Sheet for more details on who is, and isn’t, impacted by the proposal.

Disguised as an attempt to promote self-sufficiency and reduce the burden of potential immigrants on the U.S. tax payer, this will in fact do the opposite. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admits that many U.S. citizens will be affected by the rule because immigrant families will no longer take advantage of benefits. The agency’s list of negative effects includes “worse health outcomes … especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants, or children,” as well as “increased use of emergency rooms,” “increased prevalence of communicable diseases,” “increased rates of poverty and housing instability; and reduced productivity and educational attainment.” In fact, even before the regulations have gone into effect, health providers report that fear among immigrant parents has already caused many to forego nutritional benefits for their U.S.-born children.

The new proposed public charge regulations will hurt St. Louis immigrant families by forcing them to overcome additional hurdles to the already difficult and in-depth process of obtaining a green card,” says Meredith Rataj, Director and Bilingual Therapist at St. Francis Community Services Southside Center in St. Louis. “This new set of proposed rules changes decades of how immigrants are treated by the U.S. government and will be harmful to families by creating even more fear among immigrants in uncertain times, forcing some families to choose between reuniting with their loved ones and weathering tough economic times.

Rumors that the current administration was seeking to redefine public charge have been around for well over a year, and several draft proposals were leaked to the media. As news has spread through immigrant communities, advocates, educators and health care and social service providers began to see families drop out of programs. Parent and child health are inextricably linked. If a parent is in fear of applying for SNAP, because it may impact their legal status, their entire family will have less to eat. If individuals are sick and don’t see a doctor or are unable to access preventative care, such as vaccinations, the impact is severe on the whole community.

Once the proposed rule is officially published in the Federal Register, the public will be able to submit comments for 60 days. After DHS carefully considers public comments received on the proposed rule, DHS plans to issue a final public charge rule that will include an effective date at least 60 days after the date the final rule is published.

Missouri advocates are deeply concerned about the chilling effects of the proposal and have joined efforts to educate the community about what these changes are, when they may go into effect, who may be potentially impacted, and how to oppose them.

Please connect with MIRA’s Facebook page at for future information on how you can help oppose this planned regulation.


American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Quicktake Video


Government Press Release

Proposed Changes