The “public charge” determination has long been a part of the legal immigration process — immigrants have been required to prove that they will not become a public charge while in the United States. On Feb. 24, 2020, however, the Department of Homeland Security began enforcing the Final Rule, which adds significant obstacles to people seeking to adjust their status to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and even to obtain certain nonimmigrant benefits.
But what is considered a public charge? Under the Final Rule, you are a public charge if you rely on need-based public benefits to a certain degree. Subject to certain exceptions, the USCIS will scrutinize your finances to determine whether you are a public charge (applications for nonimmigrant benefits) or are likely to become a public charge in the future (applications for permanent residence). If so, your application will be denied.
The Final Rule is extremely broad, and this breadth gives immigration officers wide discretion to consider a variety of factors in determining whether you will likely become dependent on public benefits in the future. Application requirements have been supplemented to require a new form, Form I-944, together with extensive supporting documentation. Certain other forms have been modified in light of the Final Rule.
The Final Rule adds significant complexity to the application process. This complexity adds to the time investment required to gain approval, and it is expected to greatly increase rejection rates. Even green card applicants seeking to immigrate based on marriage to a person with US citizenship, once considered a “safe” category, can no longer be assured that their applications will be successful.