Nonimmigrants (including students in F and J status) are prohibited by U.S. law from becoming a public charge (i.e., someone who is financially dependent on the U.S. government). As a nonimmigrant, when you apply for a visa, you must show proof of sufficient funds (your Affidavit of Support and your financial documentation) to cover all of your living expenses, and those of your dependents for the duration of your stay in the U.S. The ability to cover your personal and family expenses is a condition of obtaining and maintaining F-1 or J-1 status.
What is a Public Charge?
A "public charge" is defined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as someone who is "primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense." From the Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds, 64 FR 28689 (May 26, 1999).
In some instances, you may receive benefits without becoming a public charge. For example, you can utilize community-based programs and services, such as crisis counseling and intervention, short-term shelter, and food pantries.
Proving You Will Not Become a Public Charge
Federal policy INA 212(a)(4) states that if those applying for visas or status adjustments "in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible."
When you enter the U.S., apply for an extension, or apply for a change of status, you will need to prove to the inspector or adjudicator that you are capable of maintaining your status and are not and will not be at risk of becoming a public charge.
International students and scholars must document sufficient funding to cover tuition, fees, and living expenses to meet the requirements for F-1 and J-1 status. You may also be required to show sufficient private funding when you apply for your visa to cover any funding gaps. This funding documentation is necessary because options for employment are limited for foreign students and scholars.