The Public Charge Rule


The simple explanation of the Public Charge Rule is that immigrants who have a chance of becoming a public charge, or in other words, having the state take care of them because they are unable to take care of themselves, are excluded or denied from entry into the United States.  The Public Charge rule is commonly used to deny visas and applications for permanent residency, and recently up to half of all denials were based on this this law.

In order to understand and apply the Public Charge Rule it is important to define what constitutes a public charge?  Essentially this is someone who has a higher propensity of depending on the state for their survival and is assumed to be incapable of living on their own, obtaining proper work and effectively becoming a “charge” to the state which will have to compensate the individual either directly, or through benefits in order to ensure their survival.  The Public Charge rule de facto includes individuals who are found to be mentally or physically handicapped, as they have a reduced capacity for gainful employment, as well as unmarried pregnant women as they have been considered a medical expense due to their upcoming child birthing and child rearing needs.  In fact, pregnant women traveling from Mexico have been asked to present pre-paid medical bills to prove that they are not a public charge and are entering the US for medical treatment for which they cannot pay.

Furthermore, the Public Charge Rule often applies to travelers and immigrants who are under a certain financial threshold, specifically with less than forty-five ($45) dollars, no source of employment and lack of education.  The logic behind this exclusion is that the state does not want to allow immigrants who do not have the means to provide for themselves on the basis of lack of funds, as well as the potential ability to find employment.  Though murky, a traveler or immigrant can contest the valuation of Public Charge Rule by submitting documentation that verifies family assets and eduction, skills and shows that due to age and positive health status, they can become a positive, productive member of US society.  However this still remains an arbitrary form of evaluation of an individuals capacity to take care of themselves vis a vis the Public Charge Rule, which has led to amendments, updates and controversies regarding the legislation.

The Public Charge Rule was originally enacted through the Immigration Act of 1882, which constituted that immigrants who were “unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge” would become a burden to the United States and should not be granted citizenship, and ultimately were denied entry.  This was followed by the Immigration Act of 1891 which extended the exclusion:

“T]he following classes of aliens shall be excluded from admission into the United States … All idiots, insane persons, paupers or persons likely to become a public charge, persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease, persons who have been convicted of a felony or other infamous crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, polygamists…”


And was updated in 1915 by legislation limited the application of the Public Charge Rule to be applied only to those immigrants who “by reason of poverty, insanity, disease or disability would become a charge upon the public.”

These laws were passed in conjunction with laws for the deportation of anyone found to be using government benefits after admission to the United States.  Although providing a sponsor is often a way to avoid the Public Charge Rule, in 1996, the Illegal Immgration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act required greater financial ability of any sponsor and put the onus of any immigrant on the sponsor including the guarantee of the immigrant against the taking of government aid in any form. 

Furthermore, under President’s Trump directive, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) passed a rule on October 15th, 2019 which added limitations to obtaining permanent status for immigrants of lower financial status, thus continuing the United States century-old policy behind the Public Charge rule of only allowing travelers and immigrants who fit the criteria of being able to take care of themselves both physically, mentally, and most importantly, financially.


Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top