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The New Public Charge Policy

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Passes New Public Charge Rule, effective Feb. 24, 2020

What is the government’s new public charge policy? Does the new public charge policy apply to me?

People across the United States have heard about this new public charge policy in U.S. immigration law, and many individuals and families are not only wondering if this policy applies to them, but they are also terrified of it. Unfortunately, those who this new policy may affect are not entirely wrong to be concerned. The changes to what the government considers a “public charge” are not only significantly more encompassing, but at the present moment, it is unclear how these new subjective considerations are going to be implemented in each individual immigration office.

What is a public charge?

The government has defined a “public charge” as someone who is likely to use certain government services and assistance. However, public charge is now being redefined as a non-citizen who receives or is likely to receive one or more of the specified public benefits, for more than 12 months within any 36-month period. If they are receiving more than one benefit at the same time, that time stacks and counts even more. They have also increased the types of governmental public assistance that would count toward the policy and thus negatively affect immigrants.

What government services count toward public charge rule?

Some of the programs that the government now considers under this new test include:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP, EBT or Food Stamps),
  • Federal Public Housing,
  • Section 8 assistance,
  • Medicaid (except for emergency services, children under 21, pregnant women and new mothers),
  • and cash assistance programs such as Social Security Income, TANF, and General Assistance.

Certain services are not counted in the public charge test, such as WIC, CHIP, school lunches, food banks, shelters, state or local health care programs, and many more.

Who does the new public charge rule affect?

The new public charge policy affects most family-based immigrant (think “green card”) applications. The new policy does not, however, affect those applying for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Refugee status, a U-Visa, T-Visa, Violence Against Women Act, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

If you already have permanent residence (a green card), then this new rule does not affect you unless you leave the United States for more than 180 days and seek to re-enter.

In the past, family-based immigration financial concerns could be overcome with the sponsoring United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident relative showing that they earned a defined amount of income based on family size to financially support the immigrant relative seeking legal status in the United States.

Now, the government is requesting a significantly increased amount of information from the immigrating relative to show that they are not likely to become a “public charge” in the future. This means the government now looks at the immigrating relative’s income, assets, age, health, family status, education, skills, and the sponsoring relative’s ability to financially support them.

Obviously, such a system would be especially difficult for children, the elderly and the disabled to overcome.

Declaration of Self-Sufficiency Form (I-944)

To be able to determine an immigrant’s public charge determination, the US Customs and Immigration Service has also added a new form that is required for those filing for their green cards while already present in the United States (also known as adjustment of status), the Declaration of Self-Sufficiency (I-944).

This new form is 18 pages. Although this does not sound like much, the information and documentation those pages call for are quite substantial. This new form requests information and documentation regarding the immigrating relative’s:

  • household income
  • assets
  • education
  • skills
  • health history
  • health insurance coverage
  • employment
  • credit score
  • debt
  • liabilities
  • prior receipt of public benefits
  • the ability to speak English and other languages.

This is WAY more information than they ever asked for previously. These new considerations apply to those applying for immigrant visas/green cards outside of the United States (Consular Processing) also. Although there currently is not a new form like the I-944 for these types of cases, the Department of State is planning on implementing one in the next few months.

Immigrating to the US has become Increasingly Difficult

Over the past 3 years, new policies and a change in the overall attitude in which the government reviews immigration cases have made it increasingly difficult for the average person to successfully apply for a permanent legal residence without the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney. At this point, attempting to accomplish this without hiring an attorney is a greater risk than ever before, as immigration officials seem to be less forgiving when it comes to procedural and substantive mistakes.

Attorneys understand that it is difficult for many to pay the fees involved with retaining an attorney in addition to the filing fees, but these cases are often quite complicated and require a significant amount of the attorney’s time to achieve a successful result. Unfortunately, this new policy is going to significantly increase the amount of time these cases take, which means that attorney fees will increase as well. Additionally, the government plans on increasing several of the fees related to these cases by a significant amount.

Family-based immigration has long been an important component of the American immigration story and ensuring that families and loved ones can be together in the United States. This new policy essentially makes it incredibly difficult for the poor (and as a result, affects minorities disproportionately), children, the elderly and the mentally and/or physically disabled. In the past, these cases would have been relatively straightforward and likely to be granted, but they have been getting increasingly complicated and slower due to new legal and bureaucratic policies over the past 3 years.

Now, with this new public charge policy, it has gotten to the point that anyone who tries to apply for a family member without retaining an attorney is unlikely to be successful. In short, only those that can prove that they will not “potentially, someday” be a burden on society based on the somewhat subjective opinion of whichever officer happens to be reviewing their case, AND can afford to pay an already significant and steadily increasing amount in attorneys fees and filing costs, will be able to get their green card.

Hiring an Immigration Attorney to Bring Your Family Together

If after reading this you are concerned about your or a family member’s immigration situation, the best thing you can do is schedule a consultation with an experienced immigration attorney. Knowledge truly is power. Being informed on the nuances of the law, these new policies, how they affect your circumstances and having a clear plan of attack, is the best way to ensure your immigration application is approved.

At the Law Office of Gian-Franco Melendez, LLC, family-based immigration is one of our specialties. Let us help you set yourself and your family members up for success when it comes to something as important as family being able to stay together. If you would like to schedule a consultation you can call us at 813-437-4944 or go to AttorneyMelendez.com/contact/.

Florida Immigration Lawyers