Say Goodbye to the I-944 (for now): Federal Judge temporarily blocks Trump Administration’s “Public Charge” Rule and USCIS Listens

This past Wednesday a federal judge in New York blocked the Trump administration from enforcing its “Public Charge” rule during the coronavirus pandemic because it “forced immigrants to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status.” The new Public Charge Rule, which just went into effect this past February, changed the standard by which USCIS would determine whether an individual is “likely at any time to become a public charge” and therefore inadmissible to the United States. As opposed to the old public charge rule, which defined a “public charge” as a person “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” Under either version of the rule, if you are found to be a public charge, you won’t be getting a green card.

Under the new Rule, instead of evaluating whether someone might become “primarily dependent” on benefits such as cash assistance or Medicaid coverage for long-term institutionalization, the inquiry looks at who USCIS believes is more likely than not to receive any of nine benefits for “more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.” In order to make this determination, the Rule provides several factors to be evaluated, such as the applicant’s age, health, household size, education, employment, and financial resources. The Rule even allows immigration officers to consider an immigrant’s English proficiency (or lack thereof), credit score, medical conditions and whether the person has access to private health insurance.

The old rule was mostly concerned with whether a petitioner or sponsor could financially support the immigrant to prevent them from becoming a public charge. The new Rule focuses on the immigrant’s future earning potential based on financial status, age, health, family status, education, skills, and other factors. This expanded definition and new criteria make it exponentially harder for low-skilled, low-income, elderly, or disabled immigrants to get green cards,

The new Rule also required applicants to submit a new 18-page form known as the Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency. It collects exhaustive information about the applicant’s financial and personal circumstances, as well as biographical information and financial status of all of their household members. The I-944 also includes questions and requires the submission of documentation related to household income and assets, credit history, liabilities and debts, health insurance, education level, employment history, and receipt of certain public benefits, among other factors.

Since Wednesday, it was not clear whether USCIS intended to comply with the judge’s order blocking the Public Charge Rule. Earlier this month, another federal judge ordered the Trump administration to resume accepting initial requests for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But on Tuesday, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, announced that USCIS would be rejecting all initial requests for DACA despite the court order.

Unlike with DACA, today USCIS announced on its website that as long as this court order is in effect, USCIS will no longer apply the new Public Charge Rule when adjudicating applications for adjustment of status on or after July 29, 2020. USCIS also advised that as of July 29, 2020, applicants should no longer include the burdensome Form I-944 with their applications to adjust status, or provide information about receipt of public benefits on Forms I-485, I-129, or I-539.

If you have questions about how these changes affect your case, please feel free to contact our office.