Public Charge Information

Public Charge Classification

Nonimmigrants (including students in F-1 and J-1 status) are prohibited by US law from becoming a “public charge,” i.e., someone who is financially dependent on government funds, in the United States. When nonimmigrants apply for visas, they are required to show documentation of sufficient funds to cover all of their living expenses, and those of their dependents, during their stay in the United States. The ability to cover all of one’s personal and family expenses is a condition of obtaining and maintaining F-1 or J-1 status. In accepting public benefits international students declare themselves unable to meet their financial obligations and thereby render themselves ineligible for F-1 or J-1 status.

Public Charge Rule

On February 24, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - which includes US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection- will begin implementing a public charge rule, which considers an individual’s receipt of certain public benefits and/or likelihood to require public benefits when evaluating eligibility for immigration benefits or admission to the United States.

Risk of Public Charge Classification for International Students

International students should never accept public benefits from federal, state, county, or local government agencies because doing so jeopardizes their nonimmigrant status. “Public benefits” include Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, subsidized housing, and all other aid programs funded in whole or in part with government funds.

Accepting such benefits can result in the loss of student status and a bar to re-enter the United States.

Cooperation between state social service agencies and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) makes it possible for DHS and the United States Department of State to identify nonimmigrants who accept public benefits. International students may be denied visas at consulates abroad or may be denied entry to the United States at the US port of entry.

Frequently, social service agencies, hospitals, or public housing administrators unwittingly encourage international students to apply for public benefits because they are unaware of the regulations governing nonimmigrant status or they do not know the immigration status of the individuals they are advising. Further, although US citizen children of nonimmigrants may be eligible for public benefits, by accepting those funds the children’s parents acknowledge their inability to support their dependents and thus risk being judged to have violated the conditions of their F-1 or J-1 status.

All individuals in F-1 and J-1 status must have adequate health insurance for themselves and their dependents to cover medical costs. All international students and scholars must be able to provide shelter, food, and clothing for themselves and their dependents as a condition of maintaining their nonimmigrant status.

Here are some examples of federal and state public assistance programs.


Be aware that revised USCIS forms will now ask if you have received or have been currently certified to receive (by the benefit-granting agency) any of these benefits. The forms will ask for the date you started receiving the benefit, or if certified, the date you will start receiving the benefit, and the date the benefit ended or expires.

Totality of Circumstances Test

Caution should be exercised by non-U.S. nationals in accepting any form of public benefit, however, as immigration officers will use a “totality of circumstances” test when reviewing applications for admission to the U.S., or permanent residence applications, and receipt of any public benefit may be taken into consideration to affect the application.  State and local benefits are not addressed in the public charge rule, but could be factored into totality of circumstances.  Some other factors that may be considered include health, employment status/history/potential, income, assets, age, credit history, and English proficiency. 

Legal Assistance

Public charge determinations are outside the scope of CIE advising. If you have questions regarding the use of public benefits we encourage you to seek out the assistance of an immigration attorney. Of course, the safest course of action is to not apply for or accept benefits that will likely jeopardize your status.

Additional Resources

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Public Charge Information

USCIS Public Charge Fact Sheet