August 15, 2019

New “Public Charge” Definition Finalized, Changing Rules for Changes of Immigrant Status

Karen Siegel, M.P.H.

The proposed changes to the public charge determination used when individuals seek to enter the United States or change their immigration status, which we have written about before, will take effect on October 15 unless litigation is able to delay their implementation. While it is not yet clear how the rule will be applied in practice, many of the changes below would apply to few, if any, current residents of Connecticut. 


What will change? 

The longstanding definition of public charge required officials to consider whether or not an immigrant was likely to become primarily dependent on government assistance through receipt of cash benefits or long-term services and supports. The rule considers the entirety of a person’s circumstances and positive factors can outweigh negative factors. Negative determinations can result in an individual being denied entry to the United States or permanent resident status. 

The new definition describes the following as negative factors: 

  • Age under age 21 or over 61

  • Income under 125 percent of the federal poverty limit 

  • Having a health condition likely to require ongoing care  

  • Enrollment in certain public supports for 12 months within a 36 month period; those supports include: 

    • cash assistance, as in prior definition

    • long-term supports, as in prior definition

    • the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps),

    •  Medicaid (except for those under the age of 21, pregnant women, and emergency Medicaid services), and 

    • some housing assistance 

Income over 250 percent of the federal poverty limit will be a positive factor. Use of public services by family members will NOT be taken into account. 

See analysis by Protecting Immigrant Families and the Kaiser Family Foundation for details regarding the many exceptions and specifications about how months of enrollment are calculated.


Who is affected? 

It is vital to note that the changes would likely impact very few residents of Connecticut directly. The public charge determination is only applicable to individuals seeking to enter the United States or applying for certain changes in immigration status (for example, applying for a “green card”). The determination is NOT used in considering applications for citizenship. Further, there are a number of exceptions for individuals with special immigration status, such as refugees. Even for those to whom the new rule applies, applications submitted on or before October 15, 2019 will be considered based on the current, longstanding definition of “public charge.”  

Unfortunately, fear of repercussions and the complexity of this rule mean that many families with immigrant members have already withdrawn from vital nutrition and health programs. 

For questions about individual cases, please seek the advice of an immigration lawyer


What is being done to prevent these changes? 

Governor Lamont and Department of Social Services Commissioner Gifford have joined scores of voices around the national in expressing the harm such regulations will cause.

Connecticut’s Attorney General, William Tong, has announced that the state will sue to stop this policy from taking effect. Others are also planning or have filed lawsuits. It is possible that one or more of these law suits will delay or halt implementation of these changes to the “public charge” determination process. 


Take Action

  1. Inform your community so that individuals can make informed decisions about whether or not to enroll in public services 

  2. Tell your representatives in Congress that you support HR3222: No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act of 2019  or thank them for co-sponsoring this bill (Rep. DeLauro is a co-sponsor as of this posting)

  3. Thank Attorney General Tong for taking action

Issue Area: