Updated as of March 24, 2020:
On March 13, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that they WILL NOT consider testing or treatment for COVID-19 in a public charge test, even if that testing or treatment were paid for by one or more public benefits. All immigrants should be able to access testing and treatment for COVID-19 without fear of it impacting their status.
- On February 24, 2020, changes to the public charge rule are in effect for people applying for legal permanent residency (“green cards”) or certain visas, whether their applications are processed inside or outside the U.S.
- Newly-named public benefits that were used on or before February 24, 2020 WILL NOT be counted against a visa or green card applicant.
If you are concerned about your use of health, nutrition, or housing programs and services, you should speak with an immigration attorney or Bureau of Immigration Affairs-accredited representative.
About public charge
“Public charge” is a test used by immigration officials to determine if an individual is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for support in the future. An individual can be denied a visa or lawful permanent residency (a “green card”) if they do not “pass” the public charge test. The public charge test is only used when:
- A person is applying to enter the US;
- A person is applying for a visa or green card from inside the US; or
- A green card holder has left the US for 180 consecutive days (6 months) and is applying to re-enter the US.
Some immigrants, including refugees, asylum seekers, and many humanitarian visa holders, are exempt from this policy.
ICHS sees recent changes to the public charge rule creating increased barriers for people immigrating to the United States. It is also leading to decreased participation in Medicaid, nutrition and social services. Our communities and cities are most vibrant when people have adequate food, health care and housing opportunities that allow them to be fully productive and creative. We all lose something when our neighbors and friends forgo basic services out of fear.
know your rights
Download information from Protecting Immigrant Families to get the facts, make a plan and share with others.
Find out if public charge applies to you
The public charge rule does NOT include
- Community health center sliding fee scale
- Advanced Premium Tax Credits used to purchase Qualified Health Plans
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
- Child care and development
- Disaster relief
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC
- Emergency medical assistance
- Employment and job-training
- Federal student financial aid
- Food banks
- Head Start
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Medicare Part D low-income subsidy
- National school breakfast and lunch programs
- Pell grants
- Benefits received by immigrant’s family members
- Any other benefit not specifically listed in the rule
Free resources and legal advice
If you have questions about your individual situation or the use of specific public benefits and programs, you should speak with an immigration attorney or Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representative. Following are free resources:
- Click here for City of Seattle FAQ (Updated Nov 2019):
- Eastside Legal Assistance Program (Eastside residents only): 425-747-7274
- Click here for Seattle-King County Immigrant Legal Defense Network
- Asian Counseling & Referral Service: 206-695-7600
- Northwest Immigrant Rights Project: 206-816-3870
- West African Community Council: 206-636-9882
- Entre Hermanos (focus on LGBTQ individuals): 206-322-7700
- Northwest Justice Project CLEAR Hotline:
- Inside of King County, weekdays 8am-6pm: 2-1-1
- Outside of King County, weekdays between 9:15am-12:15pm: 1-888-201-1014
- Seniors age 60+ statewide: 1-888-387-7111