U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a new rule in August 2019 to require a review of the financial situation of each person applying for lawful permanent resident status, i.e. a “green card.” After several court challenges, the rule finally went into effect on February 24, 2020. While there likely will be more litigation over this issue, and a new administration may cancel this rule, everyone now applying for a green card must provide extensive information and documentation to show that he or she has sufficient resources to support him- or herself. The factors the government will consider include age, health, household size, and financial situation (income, assets). The general requirement is to show total household income of at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For example, the amounts are $32,187 for a family of four and $54,287 for a family of eight. Although most people will meet the minimum income amount, USCIS still requires extensive information and documentation to prove it.
To put into perspective how onerous this new rule is, the existing form to apply for a green card while in the United States, the I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, is 20 pages long. The instructions run on for 45 pages. Supporting documents typically include copies of an approval notice for the underlying petition, whether employment- or family-based, birth certificate, passport, visa, prior immigration approval notices, and medical exam report, and photographs.
The new form that USCIS introduced to implement the public charge rule is the I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. It is 18 pages long. The instructions are 15 pages long, and the amount of required documentation is staggering: copies of a credit score, tax return, W-2 and paychecks, high school diplomas, diplomas for any post-secondary studies, certificates or other documentation showing English language and any other language ability, bank and retirement account statements, statements for loans such as auto loans or home mortgages, certificates for any specialized or licensed skills, such as trades or professions, and evidence of income or other financial resources of household members.
This new rule and Form I-944, as well as the request for every last financial detail about an immigrant, are both unreasonable and ill-conceived. In employment-based cases, most employers must commit to pay the sponsored immigrant the “prevailing wage” for the area of employment. Additionally, by the time many employment-based immigrants apply for a green card, they already have paid into the Social Security System, such that they are or soon will be vested and eligible for retirement benefits.
For family-based cases, it previously was enough to provide a financial “Affidavit of Support” to show that a sponsor is available to support the immigrant financially if necessary, and to commit to re-pay the government if the immigrant receives any means-tested benefits. Also, USCIS would not issue a green card until it was satisfied that there was enough household income to support the immigrant. That sometimes required enlisting a co-sponsor, who then also is on the hook for up to 10 years. The four events that end the sponsorship obligation are when the immigrant: (1) pays into the Social Security system for 40 quarters (10 years), (2) becomes a citizen, (3) dies, or (4) permanently leaves the United States. Because many immigrants often become citizens after three or five years of permanent residency or meet the 40-quarter requirement for Social Security vesting, there previously were sufficient measures in place to address any public charge concerns. The new public charge rule maintains the affidavit of support requirement for family-based cases and also now requires the I-944 Form and supporting documentation.
One can only hope that by the time USCIS figures what a mess it has created not only for immigrants but for itself by doubling the amount of work required to review the new form and mountains of documents, the new administration will put this entire public charge rule and I-944 fiasco in the trash bin, where it belongs.