Eligibility for U.S. Government Benefits due to Coronavirus and Public Charge Rule

With over 30 million people unemployed in the U.S. and availability of certain U.S. government benefits, many lawful permanent residents (or green card holders) and temporary non-immigrant visa holders are confused as to what benefits they can apply for and use without being considered a “public charge”. We will try to address some of the common questions about public charge and U.S. government benefits under coronavirus. 

Do people with green cards need to worry about using government services due to the coronavirus? No. The current public charge rule applies to people seeking to obtain a green card and does not apply to those who already have a green card. The new rule also requires those seeking to extend or change their nonimmigrant status to submit information on public benefits use.  This means that lawful permanent residents—those who already have green cards—do not need to worry about triggering the harsh effects of the public charge rule by using government services during the coronavirus.

Does filing for unemployment put someone at risk under public charge? No. When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the public charge rule, it made clear that receiving unemployment benefits is not considered to be receiving a “public benefit.” This is because unemployment is an “earned benefit” that workers pay into with their paychecks. This includes Medicare and Social Security.  People seeking to file for unemployment generally must be legally authorized to work. Some states extend unemployment benefits to individuals with DACA, while others do not.

Does receiving government support for a coronavirus test put someone at risk under public charge No. Guidance posted on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website says that “USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination.”  The rule itself also exempts the use of Medicaid benefits for treatment of an “emergency medical condition.” Immigrants should not worry about using emergency Medicaid if they become sick with the virus and need treatment.

Could a period of unemployment due to the coronavirus put someone at risk under public charge? Maybe. Immigrants who are laid off due to the coronavirus could have their diminished financial wellbeing counted against them if they apply for a green card in the future or are forced to rely on public benefits to survive.  However, USCIS has indicated that individuals in that situation should provide additional evidence along with their application for a green card. They can explain that the hardship was due to COVID-19.

For more information on Coronavirus and Public Charge Rule,

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