Avoid Becoming a Public Charge - University of Houston
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Avoid Becoming a Public Charge

By definition, someone who is a "public charge" relies on the U.S. government for financial support. Under immigration law, an alien who is (or is likely to become) a public charge may be barred from entering the United States, and is ineligible to adjust their status (i.e., become a Green Card holder). The use of government funds alone does not necessarily make one a public charge. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must consider each individual's circumstance when making a public charge determination.

Steps to Take

Visit the USCIS website for further information about public charge. 

  • Consider your financial situation prior to bringing dependents to the United States. Spouses and children in F-2 status may not work, so the F-1 must have adequate funds to support the entire family.
  • Purchase health insurance for each family member. Health care in the United States is very expensive. Adequate health insurance can protect you from financial ruin if you or a dependent family member needs medical care in the United States.
  • Take stock of your financial situation. You may find that you can re-arrange your budget to identify funds to pay for day care, school lunches, etc. Do not use government benefits if you can afford to pay for your family's expenses.  
  • If you have any questions or concerns, consult an experienced immigration lawyer for assistance.

Things to Consider

  • The decision to use public benefits, even those exempt from public charge consideration, should not be made without reasoned thought to the possible consequences. For instance, at the time of visa application, nonimmigrant students and their dependents must demonstrate that they have adequate funds to support themselves during their stay in the United States. A family that used public funds for prenatal care and delivery, for instance, might find it more difficult or even impossible to renew their U.S. entry visa while abroad.
  • 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 U.S. 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 status.
  • Cooperation between state social service agencies and the DHS makes it possible for DHS and the 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.