This is a term that officials from United States immigration use. It refers to an individual who is thought to depend primarily on the government in order to support themselves or maintain life at a minimum level. This means that they are likely receiving assistance in one of a couple of forms:
- At the governments expense, thy are institutionalized for long-term care
- Assistance is received in the form of public cash
The term public charge also refers to someone who is likely to need assistance in the future as described above. In order to determine whether or not a person will at some time be qualified as public charge, a number of factors will be considered:
- Skills and education, financial status, resources, assets, family status, health, and age.
If you have received assistance for financial aid from a government agency, but have done so without using fraud and in a completely legal manner, it should not affect your naturalization eligibility. However, the government of the United States can declare that you cannot receive LPR status, meaning you are inadmissible, if you are likely to become a public charge in the future. In the United States, regarding receiving naturalization, there is no public charge bar.
If, however, as a result of overpaid public benefits you have owed or not paid back the debt – or if you have received public benefits illegally – you may be judged to have bad moral character which could cause the USCIS to deny your naturalization application. Any individual that is unsure of whether or not they received benefits when they should not have received them should speak with a lawyer regarding United States citizenship qualifications.