If you are living outside the United States and applying for an immigration visa through consular processing, you are almost certainly not eligible for US public benefits anyway. Nevertheless, the public charge determination has always been forward-looking — your failure to use US public benefits in the past will not necessarily prevent the public charge rule from being used against you, based on the likelihood of you using them in the future.
Unfortunately, the term “public benefits” has been redefined in a manner that could be disadvantageous to you. The previous public charge guidelines focused on the applicant’s likely use of “cash benefits” such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, colloquially known as “welfare”). Back then, the likely use of non-cash benefits was not considered in a public charge determination.
Now, the public charge rule has been modified to include the possible future use of many non-cash public benefits against an applicant. Is Medicaid a public charge now, for example? Following is an abbreviated list of non-cash benefits:
- SNAP benefits (“food stamps”);
- Section 8 housing assistance;
- Section 8 rental assistance;
- Federal housing subsidies; and
- Many (but not all) Medicaid benefits. There are exceptions for emergency medical treatment, people under 21 at the time of use, disabled people, pregnant women, and new mothers who use Medicaid within 60 days of giving birth. These exceptions were made for humanitarian reasons
Not all benefits will be held against you — the receipt of unemployment benefits, for example, will not be held against you. Just because the likely use of any of the foregoing benefits can be used against you by United States immigration authorities does not mean that you are ineligible to receive them.
In other words, the fact that a green card holder can legally use some of the foregoing benefits is no defense against a public charge rejection of your lawful permanent resident application.
If you have been in the United States before and have used public benefits, this history can be used against you by State Department immigration authorities. Fortunately, however, rejection of your application is not necessarily inevitable simply because you used public benefits — ultimately, it is a subjective determination.