I have a green card. Can I be a “public charge”?

The new public charge rules implemented by this Administration are causing extreme stress and confusion among immigrant communities and their advocates.

A question that frequently has arisen in my practice is whether a “green card” holder is subject to public charge rules. The answer is, generally, no. A green card holder with a ten-year green card or a two-year (conditional) green card is not subject to the public charge rules. This means that the green card holder’s income does not matter after s/he obtains her green card, and does not matter at the time the green card holder files Form I-751 to remove the conditions of the two-year card. Also, public benefits for which the green card holder is legally eligible will not affect her/his eligiblity to maintain the green card.

There are two important exceptions. First, if the green card holder did not disclose prior use of public benefits at the time of obtaining the green card and was required to disclose such benefits, those benefits could come back to bite the green card holder from the perspective of misrepresentation. That means that USCIS may allege that the green card holder lied to get the green card.

The second important exception is a green card holder who leaves the US for more than 180 days. Upon returning to the US, CBP (and USCIS) can inquire about the green card holder past use or future use of public benefits. See https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/14/2019-17142/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds, which states: “DHS notes that a person who is already a lawful permanent resident has already undergone a public charge inadmissibility determination, unless she or he was exempt from such a determination at the time of application for such status. Such a person would not undergo another public charge inadmissibility determination unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determines, upon the alien’s return from a trip abroad, that the returning lawful permanent resident is an applicant for admission based on one of the criteria set forth in section 101(a)(13)(C) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(13)(C), such as the alien has been absent from the United States for more than 180 days. ”