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Receipt of Public Benefits May Hinder Admissibility to the U.S.

The Department of State (DOS) has been scrutinizing individuals applying for green cards under the public-charge bar. Some of these non–U.S. citizens must show that they are not likely to become dependent on the government for cash assistance or long-term care. In making a public-charge determination, the government must look at a person's age, health, family situation, income, resources, education, and skills, and may also consider an affidavit of support or contract signed by a sponsor promising to support the immigrant. The determination requires a complete consideration of the totality of the circumstances.

Almost two decades ago, the government clarified that the use of services such as health coverage or nutrition assistance would not be considered in the public charge determination — only the receipt of cash assistance for monthly income maintenance or government-funded long-term care could be considered. However, new DOS instructions now include the use of noncash benefits by applicants, sponsors, and family members as a valid consideration in making a public charge determination. Individuals who have used these benefits should be cautious when applying for immigrant visas at a consulate.

USCIS has not yet taken a similar stance for green card applications filed domestically, and the factors affecting their public-charge determinations remain unchanged. At this point, it is unclear whether USCIS will follow suit.

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