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Changes to Inadmissibility Rule, USCIS Forms to Take Effect February 24

A sweeping change to the Public Charge ground of Inadmissibility has been cleared to go into effect by the Supreme Court, and will be implemented on February 24, 2020 for all applicants, including those from Illinois.

Those seeking permanent resident status will face wider and more intense scrutiny of receipt of public benefits, as well as factors such as employment history and education level.   Those filing an I-485 application for permanent residency will have to file a new form, the I-944 “Declaration of Self Sufficiency.”  Even for those well self-sufficient, this 18-page document may be daunting.  It requires organizing and submitting information from or copies of forms including—but by no means limited to -- federal tax returns, credit reports, bank deposit records, mortgage or car loan paperwork, and health insurance payment records.  However, for those who may be wondering, it has no separate filing fee.

Perhaps most notably, the new rule defines a public charge as a foreign national who “receives one or more public benefits … for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).”  And so Form I-944 asks about the applicant’s use of, certification for, and pending applications to the designated benefits programs:

  • 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 (SNAP, or formerly called “Food Stamps”) 
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program 
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation)  
  • Public Housing under section 9 the Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. 1437 et seq. 
  • Federally funded Medicaid (with certain exclusions)

There are many exceptions and qualifications:  The time period under consideration begins “no earlier than 36 months before the alien applied for admission or adjustment of status on or after February 24, 2020.”    Enlisted soldiers receive an exemption if they (or spouse or children) receive benefits or file the I-485 while enlisted.  Public benefits received by members of the applicant’s household won’t count, unless the applicant is a listed beneficiary.  Form I-944 has questions addressing these and other specific conditions that might affect the I-485 adjudication outcome.

Finally, USCIS makes the overall determination that one is “more likely than not to become a public charge” in the future based on “the totality of the circumstances,”  which still includes “Sufficient Form I-864,” the affidavit of support.   But is also considers additional factors such as the applicant’s age, health, family size, education and employment history.

Applicants for extension and change of status will have a more limited review, contained in changes to the relevant forms (e.g. I-129) and will not have to file the I-944. 

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