Affordable Care Act Doesn’t Make You a Public Charge

Affordable Care Act Doesn’t Make You a Public Charge

The Affordable Care Act does not deem you a “public charge”. This means that applying for Medicaid or CHIP benefits, or receiving savings on health insurance costs through the Marketplace won’t impact your immigration status.

Health insurance can help you and your family stay healthy and thrive. Although the public benefit rules may seem complex, there’s plenty you can do to get the right information.

What is a public charge?

Under the Affordable care act, some immigrants are classified as public charges when applying for green cards or other visas. Immigration officials use this test to assess whether a person will become primarily dependent on government benefits in the future.

In such cases, officials take into account a person’s age; health; family status; assets and resources; education level and skillset. If it is determined that an individual has more potential to become a public charge in the future than not, officials have the authority to deny their application.

Most immigrants are exempt from the public charge rule due to access to Medi-Cal or other state-funded programs that don’t count against them. If you think you might be affected by this rule, consult a qualified immigration attorney or download our Keep Your Benefits Guide (available in English, Spanish and Chinese).

How do I know if I’m a public charge?

The public charge rule is a test used by immigration officers to decide whether someone applying for lawful permanent residence (green card) or other visas, like one to enter the United States from abroad, may be denied their application. They take into account factors like age, income, family support, health conditions and whether they receive certain public benefits.

At one time, federal policy limited cash assistance programs to those designed to help individuals maintain basic living standards (like Supplemental Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or long-term institutional care at government expense (like Medicaid). In 2019, however, President Trump dramatically altered this rule so that nearly any benefit not paid for by the government could count against someone as a public charge.

Most immigrants, including refugees and asylees, self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act, Special Immigrant Juveniles, T (trafficking) and U (crime) nonimmigrants and other humanitarian immigrants remain exempt from this rule. If you think you might be a public charge under immigration law, please reach out to us for qualified legal advice or use our Keep Your Benefits Guide (available in English, Spanish and Chinese) for guidance.

What happens if I’m a public charge?

For over 100 years, immigration law has included a public charge rule that can prevent immigrants from being admitted to the United States or adjusting status as legal permanent residents (green card holders). If someone is found to be a public charge, they may not be granted admission or the ability to adjust their status.

Under the law, a public charge is someone who may become solely dependent on government assistance for subsistence. This could include receiving public cash assistance programs to maintain income (often referred to as “General Assistance”) or long-term institutionalization at taxpayer expense.

USCIS and the State Department employ the “totality of circumstances” test when making a public charge determination. When deciding whether or not to admit an applicant, immigration officers must take into account various factors, including their current and past receipt of cash public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

What can I do if I’m a public charge?

If you are a public charge, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. You may receive assistance applying for and receiving safety net benefits like Medicaid or CHIP, as well as discover other resources to enhance your health and well-being.

These resources can provide you with more information about immigration rules and how they apply to you. Furthermore, legal services and government agencies offer assistance.

SNAP benefits do not create a public charge and will not affect your immigration status or chances of becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR). You may even apply for benefits on behalf of family members who qualify, providing they are eligible.

Under current policies, you may still be considered a public charge if you receive long-term care in a nursing facility at government expense or fail to tell the truth on your application for health insurance coverage.

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About the Author: Raymond Donovan