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Public Charge Rule

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

by Jordan Woodlief


Hello everyone!

Welcome to “Clarity in Chaos.” This blog series will touch on current hot-button immigration issues and policies, providing operational and spiritual clarity in the midst of chaos. Our first topic of discussion is the “public charge rule,” which went into effect on Monday, February 24th, 2020.


  • October 28, 2018: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announces a first draft of the public charge rule for immigrant applicants in the United States

  • August 15, 2019: USCIS announced its final draft of the public charge rule for immigrant applicants in the United States

  • October 11, 2019:  Department of State (DoS) announced its final draft of the public charge rule for immigrant applicants abroad

  • October 15, 2019: Several nationwide injunctions are granted by courts throughout the United States, blocking implementation of the public charge rule

  • January 27, 2020: Supreme Court lifts the nationwide injunctions everywhere except Illinois, allowing USCIS and DoS to implement the public charge rule

  • February 22, 2020: Supreme Court lifts the injunction in Illinois, allowing USCIS and DoS to implement the public charge rule everywhere

  • February 24, 2020: Public charge rule takes effect


What is the public charge rule?

The new public charge rule expands the definition of what it means to be a “public charge” as an immigrant applicant. Prior to the new rule’s implementation, an immigrant’s sponsor could submit a form acknowledging that they were financially responsible for the immigrant applicant (an Affidavit of Support) to prevent USCIS or DoS from making a public charge determination. Now, as part of a “totality of circumstances” test, the immigrant’s past use of public benefits, age, health, family status, language knowledge, assets/resources/financial status, and education/skills are more fully taken into account.

What does it mean to be a “public charge”?

Per the new public charge rule, a “public charge” is an immigrant applicant who is more likely than not to depend on public benefits any time in the future for more than 12 months, in total, within any 36-month period.

Who does the public charge rule affect?

The public charge rule affects green card applicants who apply on or after February 24, 2020 and who are not applying based on a humanitarian-based visa or status. Those exempted include: refugees; asylees; Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs); certain trafficking victims (T-Visa holders); victims of qualifying criminal activity (U-Visa holders); and victims of domestic violence by a qualifying U.S. Citizen relative (VAWA self-petitioners). However, these exempted categories only make up a small proportion of total applications, and as such, the vast majority of immigrant applications are now subject to the public charge rule. (For context: those categories exempted from the public charge rule only made up 18.5% of new green card holders in 2018).

What happens if you are found to be a public charge?

If an immigrant applicant is found to be inadmissible – or ineligible for admission – based on a public charge determination, they become barred from entry into the United States. An immigrant applicant can overcome this determination by obtaining a waiver, which requires that the immigrant applicant demonstrate that their absence would cause extreme hardship to a qualifying family member. However, obtaining a waiver is not available to everyone, definitely not assured, and requires a lot of effort and time (~1-2 years per current processing times). In limited circumstances, the immigrant applicant can also post a public charge bond of at least $8,100.00 to overcome the public charge determination.


1.  The new public charge rule creates a wealth test for immigrant applicants.

The new public charge rule punishes immigrant applicants for use of public benefits, for not having health insurance, for being a stay-at-home parent, for not having an education, for having a smaller family size, for having a lower credit score, and for working in minimum wage jobs. These factors all add up to creating a wealth test for admission into the United States.

2.  The new public charge rule values assimilation into American society.

As part of the new public charge rule, knowledge of the English language, active employment in the United States, and good health are considered positive factors for an immigrant applicant avoiding a public charge determination. These factors encourage applicants to mold themselves into the “ideal” American per the administration’s standards, defined by white-ness and able-bodiedness. The United States does not recognize English as its official language, and yet knowledge of English is prized for admission into the United States. Full-time employment is not possible or appropriate for everyone, whether that be due to disability, cultural values, and/or family demands, and yet it is highly regarded. Esteeming these factors for admission into the United States ultimately devalues the varied experiences of immigrants, while projecting what the government defines as “American.”

3.  The new public charge rule does not bar immigrants from accessing public benefits, but it is designed to discourage use.

The rule does not prevent immigrants from accessing public benefits. Period. If an immigrant is in dire need of public assistance, they can still access this resource. Further, only certain public benefits and forms of assistance are considered in a public charge determination, while the vast majority is NOT.

Despite this fact, many immigrant applicants have been fearful to access public benefits since the rule was announced. Without intimate knowledge of the rule, immigrant applicants who are eligible to receive public benefits and who are eligible to apply for public benefits for their U.S. Citizen children have strayed away from use. In this way, the public charge rule discourages, if not shames, families from accessing resources that they need.

4.  The new public charge rule may be illegal.

While the Supreme Court lifted the nationwide and Illinois-based injunctions, it did not rule on the legality of the public charge rule itself. Litigators are still pursuing lawsuits against the current administration, which may prove to be effective when the cases reach the Supreme Court level.


As we embrace a future where the public charge rule is in effect, we should keep Christ’s instruction in our hearts, remembering that Jesus was once a refugee in Egypt. Exodus 23:9 asks that we not oppress “a resident alien,” for we were once “aliens” in the land of Egypt. Likewise, Matthew 25:43, 45 calls on us to welcome strangers: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me…Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

With this spirit, we can be of service as much as possible to those who need it. Help a coworker, friend, or community member learn English, while reminding them that their native language is valid. Support someone’s efforts to complete specialized training or courses for their job. Donate to organizations that cover the attorney’s fees and filing fees for applications. Or even research and prepare yourself to be a sponsor for a family member’s or friend’s Affidavit of Support if they ask you. Every act of resistance makes a difference.

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