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Monday, March 01, 2010

What Public Benefits Are Available To Immigrants?

By Udai V. Singh, Attorney-at-Law

What is a Public Charge?

All immigrants must prove that he or she will not become a “public charge”, that is someone who is likely to need cash welfare or long-term health care.

One way to show that you will not become a public charge is to have someone in the United States be your financial sponsor.  This person, the sponsor, signs an “affidavit of support” for you.

Your sponsor must be a U.S. citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident.  A sponsor must be 18 years old or older.  A sponsor must live in the United States. If someone in your family filed a visa petition for you, that person must be your sponsor.

What is an Affidavit of Support?

An affidavit of support is the sponsor’s promise that he or she will give you money or financial support if you need it for living expenses or for long-term health care.

Can an immigrant whose sponsor signed an enforceable Affidavit of Support get public benefits?

An immigrant whose sponsor signed an affidavit of support can get some public benefits. USCIS focuses on whether the immigrant will need cash benefits for income or long-term health care at the government’s expense to determine if an immigrant will become a public charge.

Following are some types of public benefits that the sponsor does not have to repay US government on behalf of the sponsored immigrant:

• Medicaid and some health insurance and health services (including immunizations, treatment of communicable diseases, and use of health clinics)
• Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Nutrition programs
• Housing assistance
• Child care services
• Energy assistance, such as Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
• Emergency disaster relief
• Foster care and adoption assistance
• Educational assistance
• Job training programs
• Community-based programs (such as soup kitchens, shelters, and crisis counseling and intervention)

Please note that not all categories of immigrants can get all of these types of benefits. Also, immigrants who have been in the United States for less than 5 years are generally not eligible for food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Does the sponsor’s income matter when the immigrant applies for public benefits?

Sometimes an agency will look at the income and resources of the sponsor that the sponsored immigrant can use to determine if the immigrant can get benefits. A sponsor’s income is usually only considered for benefits like food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). When a sponsor’s income is considered, the immigrant might not be eligible for public benefits because adding the sponsor’s income makes the immigrant “over income” for certain benefits.

But, there are exceptions to this rule. If a public aid agency determines that an immigrant is a domestic violence survivor, or would not be able to get food and shelter without assistance, only the income that the sponsor actually gives to the immigrant will be considered. Immigrants can also get emergency Medicaid without counting their sponsor’s income.

Does the sponsor have to repay public benefits used by the sponsored immigrant?

A sponsor who has signed the enforceable Affidavit of Support Form I-864 must pay the government back for any “means-tested” benefits that the immigrant used. The sponsor pays the government back after the immigrant becomes a lawful permanent resident.

A “means tested” benefit is a benefit that is funded by the state or federal government and has been determined to be a “means tested” benefit by the government that funds it.

If a person sponsors 2 or more immigrants, his responsibility is divided equally between the immigrants who are applying for public benefits.

Which public benefits does the sponsor have to pay back?

Federal benefits that must be repaid are: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, TANF, non-emergency Medicaid, and SCHIP.

If you are concerned about having to repay a benefit, call the agency providing the benefit before you apply to find out if it is considered a “means tested” benefit.

Do sponsors who sign enforceable Affidavits of Support have to repay every public benefit?

Sponsors do not have to repay the cost of emergency Medicaid or medical care, immunizations, or testing and treatment of diseases.  Sponsors do not have to repay benefits under the following:

• Short-term non-cash emergency aid
• School breakfasts or lunches provided by the School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts
• Head Start program
• Student Financial Aid
• Job Training Partnership Act program

Sponsors do not have to repay benefits that are not based on income or benefits from programs that have not been named “means tested” programs. Sponsors who are using food stamps do not have to repay the cost of food stamps used by the sponsored immigrant.

Is the sponsor responsible for benefits used by the immigrant’s U.S. citizen children?

No. The sponsor does not have to repay benefits used by the sponsored immigrant’s citizen child. The sponsor does not have to pay back benefits used by any other family members of the sponsored immigrant who he did not sponsor.

When does the sponsor’s responsibility begin and end?

Sponsor’s responsibility to repay US government for welfare and long term health benefits begin from the date the sponsored person becomes a lawful permanent resident ( i.e. greencard holder), and not from the time of signing the affidavit of support for that person.

A sponsor’s responsibility ends when the immigrant

• becomes a U.S. Citizen, or
• receives credit for 40 quarters (about 10 years) of work history in the United States
• leaves the U.S. with no intention to return
• The sponsor or sponsored immigrant dies
• The sponsored immigrant gets a new sponsor


The information in the article is for general information and is NOT a legal advice. Do not use the information to determine any course of action in a specific matter.

About the author:

image Admitted to practice in State of Georgia, USA since 1982, Mr. Singh practices Accident & Injury, Business, and Divorce only in Georgia. He practices federal immigration law in all immigration offices and immigration courts in USA. Udai Singh can be reached by phone at 770-300-0894 or 404-918-8167 or by e-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) .

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