Overview of "Public Charge" Classification

Foreign nationals 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 foreign nationals 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 their legal status in the US. In accepting public benefits international scholars declare themselves unable to meet their financial obligations and thereby render themselves ineligible for their immigration status.  

Risk of Public Charge Classification for International Scholars

International scholars should never accept public benefits from federal, state, county, or local government agencies because doing so jeopardizes their current legal status and eligibility for any other future status within the US. “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 scholar 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 scholars 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 scholars 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 status.

All international scholars must have adequate health insurance for themselves and their dependents to cover medical costs. Additionally, all international scholars must be able to provide shelter, food, and clothing for themselves and their dependents as a condition of maintaining their nonimmigrant status.

If you have any questions or need assistance managing your financial obligations, seek the assistance of an advisor at the OGS.