New Public Charge Rule Creates Uncertainty and Fear

By Reuben Seguritan

Beginning on February 24, 2020, the USCIS and the US Department of State (DOS) began implementing the new Public Charge rule to all immigrant visa applicants abroad, applicants adjusting to permanent status who are in the US and all nonimmigrant visa applicants who are seeking to extend their nonimmigrant stay in the US or change their nonimmigrant status to another nonimmigrant status. The United States will deem anyone who is likely to become a public charge inadmissible to the US and will not be granted an immigrant visa or allowed to change their nonimmigrant status. This has created uncertainty and fear in the immigrant community.

Under the new rule, “public charge” means an alien who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period. The receipt of public benefits on or after February 24, 2020 will be counted towards the determination of whether the applicant will likely become a public charge.

The public benefits that the USCIS and the DOS will look for are: Any Federal, State, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance; Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Federal, State or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance” in the State context, but which may exist under other names); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( “Food Stamps”); Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program; Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation); Public Housing; and Federally funded Medicaid with certain exclusions.

The USCIS requires that all persons submitting the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status must also submit the Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. This is a new form that will be used by the applicant to demonstrate that he or she is not inadmissible based on the public charge ground. Nonimmigrant visa applicants who are seeking to extend their nonimmigrant stay in the US or change their nonimmigrant status to another nonimmigrant status must also submit the I-944 along with their application.

The I-944 form requires the applicant to list everyone in his household and submit his IRS tax returns and the tax returns of everyone in his household. The applicant must list all assets and liabilities of himself and everyone in his household and must submit evidence on all entries. Evidence of assets and resources include: 1. Checking and savings account statements; 2. Annuities; 3. Stocks and bonds (cash value)/certificates of deposit; 4. Retirement accounts and educational accounts; 5. Net cash value of real estate holdings; and 6. Any other evidence of substantial assets that can be easily converted into cash. Examples of liabilities and debts include mortgages, car loans, unpaid child or spousal support, unpaid taxes, and credit card debt. If he filed for bankruptcy before, he must submit documents on his bankruptcy. The applicant must also submit documentation on his credit score for the last 12 months.

If applicant received or is receiving the public benefits listed above at any time, he must submit documents on the public benefits he received, how much the amount was and if he has stopped receiving them or is applying to remove his enrollment, when he stopped or when he filed the paperwork for disenrollment in the public benefit.

If the applicant currently has health insurance, he must provide the terms and type of coverage and individuals covered.

He must also submit evidence of any degrees or certifications received. Applicant must provide information on certifications or courses in English and other languages in addition to English.

Applicant can submit the Form I-945, Public Charge Bond to be allowed to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident upon the giving of a suitable and proper bond. However, applicant can only submit this form if the USCIS has notified the applicant that he may submit a public charge bond. If no notification is given but the applicant submits the I-945, it will be rejected by the USCIS. This has a filing fee of $25.

For immigrant visa applicants abroad, they must submit an additional new form which is the DS-5540 Public Charge Questionnaire. It is substantially the same as the I-944 and also requires the same amount of evidence. However, the Form I-945, Public Charge Bond cannot be submitted by the applicant abroad.

Green card holders who reenter after spending over 180 consecutive days outside the US will also be affected by the new rule.