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The Perils of “Public Charge”

Tahmina Watson Immigration News update

On October 15th 2019, the processing of immigration cases will turn on its head. It’s no exaggeration.

With the introduction of ‘public charge’ by way of form I-944 (declaration of self-sufficiency), the green card adjudication process will face it’s biggest change since immigration began.

In family-based cases, not only will people have to file the usual forms they already file (form I-485 etc.), but the additional requirement to file form I-944 will be onerous, time consuming, and a challenge for absolutely everyone.  While newspapers and media reports have predominantly discussed that the government will be looking at whether one has received food stamps or other specific benefits, the I-944 form goes much further than those questions.

The form is a vehicle for the government to ask about your age, skills, education, work history, assets, debts and even credit reports.  The time to prepare this form alone, that will require evidence for every single element, will exceed the time to prepare the rest of the application forms and packet. For many people, I anticipate that we may not have all the evidence that will be required. For those who may have much of the evidence, we will be at the mercy of an immigration officer’s discretion.  I anticipate that by next September, we will likely hear of a significant drop in approvals of cases.  Public charge adjudication will be effectively a path to reduce immigration. All without Congress lifting a finger.

Some applicants, such as those on humanitarian visas, will be exempt from the public charge rule. The skeptic in me though wonders when and how the rules will change as things get implemented. So, no one should really think that they are safe.

When it comes to employment-based temporary work visa application- forms will be updated to inquire whether people have received public benefits. While the questions will be ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and while most work visa holders may say ‘no’, it is hard to say whether the govt. would send requests for further evidence (RFE) to make further inquiries. In my opinion, H1B, L1, E2, O and TN  visa holders will likely see the least consequences since most earn significant wages. But I do anticipate that those in lower wage visas categories such as religious and entertainment visas, potentially even seasonal workers may see extra scrutiny.  As time goes by, we will have a better idea of such adjudications.

As a law firm, we are trying to ensure all our cases, whether family-based or employment-based, though especially family-based, are filed before October 15th.

Please do note that cases filed before October 15th 2019 will NOT be subject to the new rules.

We suggest that everyone files their current cases now. Good luck and as see you see results- good or bad, please do let us know!

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