Katharine Speer Rosenthal
Public Charge Changes
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
In late 2018, U.S. immigration agencies began to make changes intended to make it more difficult for lower-income individuals to immigrate to the United States. They asked for more financial information from visa sponsors and for the first time required visa applicants to disclose extensive financial details about themselves and their families.
The supposed goal of these rules was to better determine whether a visa applicant would be come a "public charge" in the United States. In other words, if they were likely to depend on government benefits.
Lawsuits were immediately filed. The legal battle has been going on for two years now, and each win or loss has dramatically changed application requirements overnight.
In February 2020, the U.S. government had a win and was able to implement the new rules. Applicants began filing "Public Charge Questionnaires." People outside the United States filed Form DS-5540, and those inside the country filed Form I-944.
On July 29, 2020, a New York federal court blocked the new public charge rules for people currently outside the United States as long as the COVID-19 pandemic rages. The court also blocked the rule from applying to applicants inside the United States, but on August 12 a higher court limited the ruling to people in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.
The Department of State, which is responsible for processing visa applications for individuals outside the United States, is complying with the court's order and not requiring applicants to file Form DS-5540.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is in the process of updating their guidance. As I write this article, the agency has not clarified who must file the Public Charge Questionnaire, and Form I-944 is still not listed on USCIS's forms page.