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Mar 27, 2005
US Public Assistance Benefits
- Atty. Robert Reeves Email this article

Many legal immigrants fear that if they receive various public benefits, United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) or the Department of State (DOS) will decide they are likely to become a “public charge”.  A public charge finding may result in denial of permission to adjust to legal permanent resident status, denial of a visa to enter the United States, denial or re-admission to the United States after a trip abroad for more then six months, or in very rare circumstances, deportation. A “public charge” is an immigrant who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.


USCIS issued some guidance that should greatly ease the public charge concerns for immigrants eligible for public benefits.  USCIS allows receipt of any non-cash benefits (with the sole exception of institutionalization for long term care at government expense) which is NEVER a factor in public charge determination.  Therefore, immigrants can accept Medicaid, food stamps, Women Infant Children (WIC), housing benefits, childcare subsidies or other non-cash benefits without endangering their immigration status.


There is a increasing concern on what is acceptable public assistance among those who are already legal permanent residents and those who are non-immigrants seeking permanent resident status.


In general, immigrants who are Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) are not subject to the public charge test.  LPRs do not have to meet a public charge test to become citizens, and there is no public charge test for immigrants seeking to sponsor an immigrant.  There are however, two exceptions to the general rule: 1) LPRs may be subject to a public charge test if they leave the country for more the 180 consecutive days and 2) in very rare circumstances, an LPR may be subject to deportation if they are determined to be a public charge within five years after entering the United States.



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