Public charge is a legal term that describes someone who relies primarily on government benefits for support. In 2019, a federal government rule expanded the list of programs used to decide if an immigrant is considered a “public charge.” That 2019 change has been reversed.

What this means for immigrants

  • You can safely use the health, nutrition, and housing programs that you and your family qualify for. 
  • Your use of a voucher for Medi-Cal, CalFresh, public housing, or housing choice will NO LONGER be considered when you apply for a green card or entry into the United States.
  • Your medical treatment or preventive services for COVID-19, including vaccines, will NOT be considered for public charge purposes.
  • If you apply for a green card or entry into the country, the only programs considered under the public charge test are:   
    • Cash assistance programs, such as CalWORKs, CAAP, and SSI
    • Institutional long-term care paid for by Medi-Cal

Apply for benefits  
We urge you to seek the supportive benefits you need for you and your family. Apply for Medi-Cal, CalFresh, CalWORKs and CAAP online through MyBenefits CalWIN or by phone at (415) 558-4700.

Know your rights. Get the facts 
For questions about public charge and your benefits:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is public charge?
  Public charge is a legal term that describes someone who relies primarily on government benefits for support. 

A “public charge” test is used by federal immigration officials to decide who they will allow into the United States and who can get Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR)—also known as a green card.  It also applies to green card holders who leave the country for six months and seek to reenter.  Public charge does not apply to applications to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

2. Has the public charge rule changed?
No.  In 2019, former President Trump temporarily expanded the list of public benefit programs that may be considered under the public charge test. However, President Biden has since reversed that change. This means that the majority of our programs are not considered public charge.

  3. Which public assistance programs are considered in the public charge test as of December 2022?
  If you apply for a green card or to enter the country, the only programs now considered under the public charge test are:  

  • Cash assistance programs, such as CalWORKs, CAAP, and SSI
  • Institutional long-term care paid by Medi-Cal

Note: Immigration officials also consider other factors like your age, health, employment status, and income. If you get cash assistance from a  government program and are worried about your future immigration status. call the Bay Area Legal Aid's FREE Legal Advice Line at (800) 551-5554. Support is available in all languages.

4. Is the public charge test used if a family member or I apply for citizenship?
No. The public charge rule does not apply to applications for citizenship.

 5. Does public charge apply to citizens?
 No. Public charge never applies to U.S. citizens, including the children of immigrants.

6. I heard that if I receive CalFresh (food stamps), it could be harder for me to get a green card. Is that true?
No.  

7. I heard that if I receive Medi-Cal, it could be harder for me to get a green card. Is that true?
No, unless you live in a long-term care facility and Medi-Cal is paying the costs of your residency.

8. I heard that if I live in public housing or receive a housing choice voucher or other rental assistance, it could be harder for me to get a green card. Is that true?
No. For information about housing assistance, please contact:

  9. What if I do not receive any benefits but my children do?  Will their use of benefits impact my application for a green card?
  No.

10. If I get public benefits, do my sponsor or my children have to pay back those benefits?
No. California does not have a system to require sponsors or children of benefit recipients to either pay back benefits or pay taxes on those benefits.

11. Do my children have to serve in the military if we receive public benefits?
No.

12. Does public charge apply to all immigrants?
No. Most immigrants who receive public benefits and services are not impacted by public charge. The public charge test does not apply to refugees, asylum seekers, and other categories of humanitarian immigrants. Additionally, the test does not apply to current green card holders who are applying for U.S. citizenship or green card renewal.

Each immigration case is unique. Find out how public charge might – or might not – affect your family by calling Bay Area Legal Aid's FREE Legal Advice Line at (800) 551-5554. Support is available in all languages.

13. When does the federal government use the public charge test?
Public charge applies to a limited number of legal immigration statuses, and only at specific points on the immigration pathway. Generally, the public charge test is applied when someone:

  • Applies to enter the U.S.
  • Applies to adjust their immigration status to obtain a green card

14. I have heard the public charge test applies to green card renewals. Is this true?
No. If you currently have a green card and need to renew it, the public charge test does not apply.

15. I am concerned about the privacy of my information. How is the information provided about myself or my family used by the San Francisco Human Services Agency?
The federal government does not access the San Francisco Human Services Agency’s systems for immigration enforcement. We use the information you give us only to see if you are eligible for benefits. We may need to verify the information you provide on a public benefit application with the federal government, but only to confirm your eligibility to receive services. 

16. I still have questions about how participating in public benefit programs could impact my immigration status or citizenship. Can you help me?
We cannot provide legal guidance but are partnering with qualified immigration attorneys to provide free help such as individual consultations about the intersection between public benefits and immigration.

More information

  • For questions about public benefits and public charge, call Bay Area Legal Aid's Legal Advice Line at (800) 551-5554.
  • For free immigration legal help, visit immigrants.sfgov.orgSupport is available in all languages.
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