Public Charge Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Public Charge, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Public Charge?

A person who is genuinely sick, handicapped or unable to lead a normal life and thus will have to be taken care of by the public expense.

History and Meaning of Public Charge

The term "public charge" refers to a person who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for financial support, either through cash assistance programs or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. The concept of public charge has existed in U.S. immigration law since the late 19th century, when it was used to deny entry to immigrants who were deemed likely to become burdens on society. In recent years, the Trump administration has sought to expand the definition of public charge to include a wider range of public benefits, potentially impacting the ability of many immigrants to obtain legal status.

Examples of Public Charge

  • An immigrant applying for a visa may be denied if they are found to be likely to become a public charge.
  • A noncitizen may be barred from receiving certain public benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid if they are deemed a public charge.
  • A person who becomes disabled and requires expensive long-term care may be deemed a public charge and placed in a government-funded institution rather than receiving in-home care.

Legal Terms Similar to Public Charge

  • Means-tested benefits: Programs that provide financial assistance to individuals with low income or limited resources, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).
  • Inadmissibility: The criteria used to determine if an immigrant is eligible to enter the United States or to obtain legal status.
  • Affidavit of support: A contract signed by a sponsor who agrees to support an immigrant financially, ensuring they will not become a public charge.