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Question: If I have applied for and received unemployment benefits in the past, will this trigger a “Public Charge” finding when I apply for a green card?

By August 11, 2022Immigration
Uneployment benefit form

Answer: No, Receipt of unemployment benefits won’t subject you to a “public charge” finding. You may apply for and receive unemployment benefits and still be eligible for a green card.

What is the Public Charge bar to admissibility?

Under the current definitions, which follow the 1999 Interim Field Guidance, the ‘public charge’ bar to admissibility, which also applies when someone is applying for a green card, applies to noncitizens who is “likely to become . . . primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”

Some classes of applicants are exempt from this public charge inquiry. For example, applicants under refugee or asylum categories, T Visa, U Visa, Temporary Protected Status, or Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), are exempt.

What types of public cash assistance could trigger a public charge finding?

To determine whether an applicant is inadmissible for a public charge ground, USCIS considers “public cash assistance for income maintenance,” which includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and state and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits for income maintenance (often called “general assistance” programs).

What types of public assistance does not trigger a public charge finding?

The following benefits are examples of public benefits that USCIS does not consider to trigger a “public charge” finding, and therefore will not subject the applicant to inadmissibility:

  • Medicaid and other health insurance and health services (other than long-term institutional care).
  • Nutrition programs, including food stamps, the Special Supplementary Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and other food assistance programs.
  • Housing benefits;
  • Childcare services;
  • Energy assistance, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program;
  • Emergency disaster relief;
  • Educational assistance;
  • “Earned benefits,” such as Title II Social Security benefits, government pensions, veterans’ benefits. Unemployment benefits fall under this category.
  • COVID-19 related public benefits, such as food, housing, cash assistance, rental assistance, tax credits, stimulus payments, unemployment, student financial aid, loan forbearance, and the Paycheck Protection Program.

In sum, under the current rules, a wide variety of public benefits may be claimed by a non-immigrant without triggering the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility, including unemployment benefits and other forms of earned benefits.

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