To help you understand your rights and protections, the City of Philadelphia is creating action guides on federal policies. The action guides include facts, ways you can help, and other resources.

On October 10, 2018, the Trump administration published a proposal that would change longstanding public charge policies. The proposal will result in drastic reductions to legal immigration to the United States, destabilize families by denying green cards to parents of US citizen children, and create fear and confusion that could cause hard-working immigrant families to avoid accessing health care, housing and food assistance, putting the well-being of millions at risk.

The period to submit a comment in opposition to the proposed policy change has ended.

View Mayor Kenney’s full comment here.

View Julia Hinckley and Miriam Enriquez’s joint comment here.

Know the facts

What is public charge?

“Public charge” is a term that has been used in federal immigration law for decades. Under longstanding policy, “public charge” is defined as someone who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. Federal immigration officials make decisions about who is likely to become a public charge. Some immigrants can be denied admission to the U.S. or have their application for lawful permanent residency (a green card) rejected if federal immigration officials find that they are likely to become a public charge.

Under current policy, the only benefits that may be considered by federal immigration officials when making a public charge determination are the receipts of cash assistance Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and General Assistance (GA only) and government funded long-term care. Current policy states that all non-TANF, SSI, LTC MA benefits are not considered in public charge determinations.

Who makes public charge decisions?

Two Federal Agencies make public charge decisions:

  1. The Department of State staff working in consulates overseas. These consular processing officials make decisions about who is eligible for visas to come to the U.S. from their home countries.
  2. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).  USCIS takes applications for visas and lawful permanent residency (green cards) from people who are already in the US.

What is the proposed change?

The proposed change would be an unprecedented departure from the current, longstanding interpretation of public charge.

The proposed change will use a new, broad definition of “public charge.”  The proposed regulation changes the definition of public charge to a person who is likely at any time in the future to receive certain public benefits.

What benefits will be included in the proposed rule’s definition of “public benefit?”

The following public benefits will be included when determining if someone is a public charge:

  • Federal, state, and local Cash Assistance (TANF, GA, SSI)
  • Non-emergency federal Medical Assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Public housing and housing subsidies (Section 8 and project based)
  • Medicare Part D subsidies

Will this proposed change be retroactive?

To an extent.

If the proposed rule takes effect, USCIS will heavily and negatively weigh an immigrant’s current receipt of public benefits as well as those received within the last 36 months.

Does Public Charge apply to all immigrants?


It is important to note that not all visa and green card applicants are subject to public charge tests. Some people will never be subject to a public charge test, including refugees, asylees, Special Immigrant Juveniles,VAWA petitioners, U-and T- visas and some others when applying for a green card. There also is no public charge test during the U.S. citizenship application process. Public charge also does not apply to U.S. citizens. Green card holders cannot be denied reentry into the U.S. on public charge grounds after traveling abroad for less than 180 days.

Who will be impacted by this proposed change?

The proposed change will affect certain individuals applying for admission to the United States from abroad; this includes family members of U.S. citizens who are immigrating to the U.S. on a petition filed by the family member. More mothers, fathers, children, husbands, and wives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents will be denied the ability to immigrate to the U.S. to live with their families.

The rule will also apply to those who are already in the U.S. and are applying to adjust their status to legal permanent resident or green card holder. For instance, an individual who has Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and is now married to a U.S. citizen, will be subject to the public charge determination when they apply to adjust their status to legal permanent resident.

What are the consequences of the change to the definition of public charge?

The proposed change would have two main consequences for immigrant families.

The first consequence is that immigrants who are subject to a public charge test and whose families lawfully receive government benefits will be more likely to be denied a visa or a green card, depriving them of the ability to live with their families in the U.S. This would destabilize families and denying green cards to parents of U.S. citizen children may lead to family separation.

The second consequence is a significant “chilling effect.”

It would deter people from applying for benefits whether they are actually subject to the public charge test or not. Immigrants and their children, many who are U.S. citizen children, are likely to forgo the benefits and assistance they are eligible for due to fear, confusion or an abundance of caution. This would mean many immigrants would be giving up benefits they require for them and their children to have healthy lives.

What are the financial considerations?

Immigrants have higher rates of employment than U.S. born citizens, but often work in jobs that pay them less than their U.S. born counterparts. Billions in taxes paid by immigrant families fund these benefits and thus immigrants should be entitled to use them without fear. For all people working low-wage jobs, health and nutrition assistance helps them and their families thrive. Further, when immigrant families forgo benefits, uncompensated care at hospitals and health clinics will increase, and people will have less money to spend in our local economy. This policy change will make serious problems like hunger, child poverty and homelessness worse in our city.

How does this impact Philadelphia?

A decline in the immigrant population will lead to significant economic losses for the entire Philadelphia community. Immigrants have helped reverse fifty years of population loss, strengthening our city and spurring growth in our neighborhoods. From 2000-2013, immigrants were responsible for 96% of the Main Street neighborhood business growth. Since 2000, immigrants have been responsible for 75% of the workforce growth. By targeting immigrant families, this proposed policy is targeting our city.

Any member of the public can comment on the rule and tell the government why public charge policies should not be changed. The period to comment was 60 days and ended on December 10, 2018. Comment submission is very important. Only once all the comments are reviewed can the Department of Homeland Security publicize the final regulation.


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