IMMIGRANTS AND PUBLIC BENEFITS

Author: Tyler Moran of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

How Receipt of Benefits Can Affect Your Immigration Status 

  1. If I receive benefits, how will it affect my immigration status?
    When you apply for a Green Card, the INS considers a number of factors to decide whether you will be able to support yourself when you live in the U.S. (e.g. your age, health, income, family size, education and skills). If after considering your situation, the INS thinks that you cannot support yourself and that you will depend on benefits in the future, they can deny you a Green Card because you are considered a “public charge.” If you have used public benefits, you need to prove to the INS that you will be able to support yourself and that you will not rely on public benefits in the future.
  2. What kinds of benefits might cause a public charge problem?
    The INS is supposed to consider only programs meant for people who cannot support themselves, such as cash assistance, but the public charge decision will depend on your situation and your ability to support yourself. If you can support yourself or someone else can support you, receipt of WIC or Free Care* cannot make you a “public charge.”
  3. Can I be asked to pay back benefits that I used in the past?
    No. The INS cannot ask anyone to pay back benefits. If you are asked to pay back benefits, you should get legal help immediately. You only have to repay benefits if you received them improperly (for example, you did not tell your welfare worker about all of your income), and if the agency that gave you the benefits has actually asked you to repay them.
  4. If I used benefits in the past, will I be able to sponsor my family member to come to the U.S.?
    If you sponsor your family member to come to the U.S., you will have to sign a legal document, called an “Affidavit of Support,” that shows that you currently have enough money to support your household and the family members that you are sponsoring. If the INS does not think that you can support your family member in the future, then they can deny your family member a green card even if you met the income requirements and signed the Affidavit of Support.
  5. If I have a Green Card and receive benefits, will it prevent me from becoming a U.S. citizen?
    No, not unless you received benefits that you were not supposed to receive. If you illegally received public benefits, the INS may decide that you do not have “good moral character” and you could have trouble becoming a U.S. citizen.
  6. What should I do if I have any questions about using public benefits?
    Please call an immigration lawyer if you have any questions.

*WIC is a nutritional program for low income pregnant or breast-feeding women and children under five. Free Care is health care for those at 200%-400% of the federal poverty limit.

Frosina thanks Tyler Moran of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Boston, MA, for the above information.

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