Overview of "Public Charge" Classification

Nonimmigrants (including students in F-1 and J-1 status) are prohibited by US law from becoming a “public charge,” i.e., someone who is financially dependent on government funds, in the United States. When nonimmigrants apply for visas, they are required to show documentation of sufficient funds to cover all of their living expenses, and those of their dependents, during their stay in the United States. The ability to cover all of one’s personal and family expenses is a condition of obtaining and maintaining F-1 or J-1 status. In accepting public benefits international students declare themselves unable to meet their financial obligations and thereby render themselves ineligible for F-1 or J-1 status.

Risk of Public Charge Classification for International Students

International students should never accept public benefits from federal, state, county, or local government agencies because doing so jeopardizes their nonimmigrant status. “Public benefits” include Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, subsidized housing, and all other aid programs funded in whole or in part with government funds.

Accepting such benefits can result in the loss of student status and a bar to re-enter the United States.

Cooperation between state social service agencies and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) makes it possible for DHS and the United States Department of State to identify nonimmigrants who accept public benefits. International students may be denied visas at consulates abroad or may be denied entry to the United States at the US port of entry.

Frequently, social service agencies, hospitals, or public housing administrators unwittingly encourage international students to apply for public benefits because they are unaware of the regulations governing nonimmigrant status or they do not know the immigration status of the individuals they are advising. Further, although US citizen children of nonimmigrants may be eligible for public benefits, by accepting those funds the children’s parents acknowledge their inability to support their dependents and thus risk being judged to have violated the conditions of their F-1 or J-1 status.

All individuals in F-1 and J-1 status must have adequate health insurance for themselves and their dependents to cover medical costs. All international students and scholars must be able to provide shelter, food, and clothing for themselves and their dependents as a condition of maintaining their nonimmigrant status.

If you have any questions or need assistance managing your financial obligations, seek the assistance of an advisor at the OGS.