On Feb. 24, 2020, Form DS-5540, Public Charge Questionnaire, became a requirement for most people seeking US permanent residence visas from a US embassy or consulate abroad. The purpose of this form is to allow the examining officer to determine whether it is likely that you will become a “public charge” after you arrive in the United States.

Since you will be classified as a public charge if the officer considers it likely that you will substantially rely on public benefits while in the US, and since being classified as a public charge will render you inadmissible (your visa application will be denied), it is critical that you complete Form 5540 in a careful manner — do not take it lightly. Following is a set of section by section instructions that you can refer to.

Part 1: Information About You

Your name: Provide your name exactly as it appears on your passport. If your name is different than it appears in any documents you submit, you will need to provide a documented explanation (a marriage certificate if you changed your name due to marriage, for example).

Your age: Keep in mind that the US uses the cardinal number counting system, while some countries, such as China, use the ordinal system. In China, for example, your age is one on the day you are born, while in the US you don’t turn one until a year later. Determine your age assuming that your age was zero on the day you were born, and count up from there.

Whether you have ever been in the United States before: This is a yes or no question with no commentary required.

Part 2: Your Health

Health insurance: The officer will be wanting to know whether you are likely to burden the US healthcare system while you are in the US. If you don’t already have health insurance, make sure to answer “yes” to Question 4A concerning your intention to obtain health insurance coverage within 30 days after arriving in the US.

If possible, make definite arrangements before your interview to be covered within 30 days of your arrival, since you may be asked to provide proof at your interview. Failing to arrange for health insurance could jeopardize your application, especially if you have few financial resources.

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Part 3: Your Household Size

This part is designed, at least in part, to assess your financial burdens arising from any dependents you are obligated to support. Your “household” includes everyone who lives with you, plus anyone who is financially dependent on you regardless of whether they live with you.

If you have a household member who received public benefits while on active duty in the military, be sure to mention your household member’s military status, because you will have to mention this person’s receipt of public benefits anyway, and their military status could prevent his or her receipt of public benefits from being held against you.

Part 4: Your Assets, Resources and Financial Status

This is one of the most important parts of the form, because insufficient financial resources could result in you being classified as a public charge.

US Federal Tax Returns: You could have a problem if you failed to file a US federal tax return during the last three years when required by law to do so. Consult the IRS website to determine whether you were required to file a federal tax return. Remember, it is better to file a late tax return before completing Form DS-5540 than to answer “no” to the question of whether you filed a federal tax return during a year in which you were required to do so.

Income: Be sure to rely on the official exchange rate to answer Question 8, if you received income in a currency other than US dollars.

Assets: Be sure to list all of your assets — savings account, property such as real estate or jewelry, etc. The greater your assets, the smaller the chance that you will be classified as a public charge. High assets can also compensate for low income, at least to an extent. Be sure to value your assets reasonably.

Debts and liabilities: Your debts will be set off against your assets to determine your financial status. Be sure to include all of your debts — you will be required to submit a credit report with your application.

Public benefits: The use of public benefits, such as food stamps, by you or your household can be held against you unless an exemption applies — even if you applied for but were turned down for these benefits. See the USCIS website for an explanation of which benefits will not be held against you. Beware — your entire application could be jeopardized if you don’t answer “no” to Question 13.

Education and Skills

Part 5: Education and Skills

This section is designed to assess your employability in the United States. It matters most if you are immigrating through a relative and have no employment or employment offer in the United States. Be sure not to omit anything that could help you.

Part 6: Translator

Enter information about anyone upon whose English language skills you relied to complete this application.

Part 7: Preparer

Enter information about anyone who helped you prepare the form — your lawyer, for example.

Part 8: Additional Information

Use this section to provide any additional information that might help your application.

Part 9: Declarant’s Signature

Since you are the declarant, you must sign this form Your signature guarantees that the information you provided is true to the best of your knowledge and belief. It is a crime under US law to intentionally provide any false or misleading information on Form DS-5540.

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