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How To Apply For A Green Card: Government Changes “Public Charge” Definition

How to Apply for a Green Card: Government Changes “Public Charge” Definition

by: Jaclyn Fortini Laing

Who is Subject to the “Public Charge” Definition?

Most people applying for a Green Card or temporary U.S. visa are subject to the “public charge” rule. For example, those who apply for a family-based Green Card must be submit an I-864, Affidavit of Support. The I-864 attests that the sponsor is able to prevent the intending immigrant from becoming a “public charge”. If he or she is “likely at any time to become a public charge”, he or she may not become a Lawful Permanent Resident.  

History of the “Public Charge” Definition

Since 1999, the government agencies that manage U.S. immigration have defined “public charge” as a person who is likely to become “primarily dependent” on “public cash assistance for income maintenance”. Also, someone who is “institutionalized for long-term care at government expense” may be a public charge.

Recent Changes to the “Public Charge” Definition

In January 2018, the State Department revised the Foreign Affairs Manual. It now instructs consular officers to consider more government benefits when deciding whether an intending immigrant is likely to become a public charge. Additionally, Politico reported that numbers of rejected applications due to “public charge” decisions has risen steadily since 2016.

On August 14, 2019, the Justice Department published a new public charge rule in the Federal Register. The new rule was supposed to take effect on October 15, 2019. However, since then, three federal lawsuits have been filed. Consequently, the new rule is blocked until these lawsuits are decided by the federal judges involved.

However, it is important to stay informed in the case that the new rule passes federal scrutiny and is upheld in these three courts. For example, under the changes, a “public charge” is “an alien who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period”. If an immigrant receives two benefits in one month, the government will count that as two months of benefits. There are several other changes, about which you should consult an immigration attorney.

What Does this Mean for Me?

Generally, if you have received public benefits from the United States government or have a low income, it could be more difficult for you to apply for a Green Card. A careful strategy is necessary to ensure your successful Green Card petition. Consult our immigration attorney here.

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