U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, has recently implemented changes relating to the public charge rule that impact immigration cases (particularly anyone seeking admission) in the United States. This guide explains the new public charge rule, as well as how it may impact your case and whether you can provide documentation to help show the U.S. government that you’re unlikely to become a public charge.
Background: The Public Charge Rule and U.S. Immigration
Before you can delve into the specifics of the public charge rule – or any recent changes to it – you need to understand a few definitions.
A public charge is someone who is dependent on public resources while in the U.S., such as welfare benefits.
A person seeking admission is anyone seeking to obtain a visa to the U.S., entry into the U.S. or permanent resident status.
The government, under Executive Order 14012, has chosen to work to restore trust in the legal immigration system by identifying barriers that make lawful immigration harder for the wrong people. The same executive order recognized that in the past, many immigrants and their families were fearful of applying for or getting access to benefits that they needed to survive because of excessively harsh rules in place against becoming a public charge.
As of March 9, 2021, the 2019 Public Charge Final Rule is no longer in effect. That rule expanded immigration laws and made it much more difficult for immigrants to get permanent residency in the United States.
It allowed immigration officers to make a judgment call on whether an immigrant was “likely” to rely on any government benefits in the future; if the official believed that a person would likely need to rely on public benefits in the future, the person was denied a visa or green card.
Additionally, if an applicant didn’t have a household income of at least 125 percent above the Federal Poverty Guidelines, they were considered to be likely to become a public charge; in fact, the government preferred people whose household incomes were above 250 percent of the guidelines. Again, however, the 2019 Public Charge Final Rule has been rescinded and replaced with more immigrant-friendly rules.
About the COVID-19 Pandemic and Related Services
USCIS is currently encouraging everyone, regardless of immigration status, to seek necessary medical care related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes treatment and preventive services – and all immigrants may seek pandemic-related benefits and services without worrying about negative immigration-related consequences.
The Public Charge Policy in Immigration Has Changed (Again)
As of 2021, USCIS has made several changes. Now, people who have used public benefits in the past are no longer penalized for doing so; additionally, the rule that required personal financial resources (using Form I-944, “Declaration of Self-Sufficiency”) to be declared, is no longer in place.
How Does Today’s Public Charge Policy Affect The Immigration Process?
Today’s public charge policy is similar to the policy that was in effect for many years before the prior rule took effect. That means you do not need to complete Form I-944 as part of your application.
What Public Benefits Does USCIS Consider Now?
Public benefits that USCIS considers now are Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and state and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits (typically called “general assistance” programs).
Additionally, some noncitizens are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility to the United States, including:
- Refugees and asylees
- Some noncitizens seeking T or U nonimmigrant status (victims of human trafficking and criminal activity, respectively)
- Applicants who are seeking temporary protected status, or TPS
- Applicants who are seeking registry
- Some people who are seeking recognition as American Indians born in Canada
- People who are self-petitioning under the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA
The Benefits That USCIS Does NOT Consider Now
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does not consider a number of public benefits to be “negatives” on a visa or green card application when it comes to the public charge rule. The benefits that USCIS will not hold against you include:
- Medicaid and other health insurance-related services
- The Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Nutrition programs
- Housing benefits
- Childcare services
- Energy assistance
- Emergency disaster relief
- Foster care and adoption assistance
- Educational assistance
- Job training programs
- In-kind, community-based programs
- Cash payments that have been earned (such as Title II Social Security benefits, government pensions, or veteran benefits)
Do You Need Immigration Help?
Changes in immigration policy are difficult to navigate on your own. Schedule a free consultation with us and we’ll look over your case and help you through your options.