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Public Charge Rule

The public Charge rule – does it apply to your case?

Is your case subject to the public charge test, and do you know how to pass the test? Each immigrant who applies for a green card through a family member has to prove they won’t end up needing government assistance, and the primary way to prove this is by showing that your sponsor (the family member who is asking for your green card) has a sufficiently high salary to be able to support the immigrant if they end up not being able to support themself.

The so-called “public charge rule” has been the subject of frequent changes and much litigation under the Trump administration, and President-elect Biden is expected to roll-back many of the particularly onerous and burdensome new regulations. But the fundamental aspects of the public charge rule will remain because they are written into the law and would take an act of Congress to upend. So what do we know for sure?

Who needs to worry about the Public Charge Rule?

  • Family-based green card applications living in the US
  • Family-based green card applicants living abroad
  • Visa applicants living abroad seeking admission to the United States

Which types of cases are exempt from the public charge rule?

  • Citizenship
  • Green Card renewals for existing residents 
  • Visas for victims of trafficking, violent crimes, or domestic violence

How Can You Prove You’re Not Going to be a Public Charge?

The main focus of the public charge inquiry is the income of your sponsor.  Your sponsor must be able to prove they have an income of at least 125% of the federal poverty level for their household size, as outlined in the HHS Poverty Guidelines, which are updated annually. Determining how many people are in a household is trickier than you might think, but a household always includes at least the immigrant, the sponsor, and the immediate family members of both of those people. 

If the immigrant has been working legally in the United States, their income can also be used to support their own green card application. Assets from the sponsor or immigrant may also be considered, if necessary. 

What Else Do you Need to Know?

The public charge test is forward-looking, and you have to convince immigration that you will be able to support yourself and your dependents in the future once your green card application is approved and you move to the U.S. with your family.  There are many different ways to prove you will not end up needing government assistance, but a strong work or education history are both considered strong indicators of future financial success.

When you agree to sponsor an immigrant for a green card, you are required to file a sponsorship form and sign a formal contract with the U.S. government promising to support the immigrant.  It’s very important that sponsors understand this contract fully and realize that if the immigrant ends up using government benefits that the U.S. government can sue the sponsor to recover the cost of those benefits. Being a sponsor is not a casual matter and sponsors should feel confident and capable of supporting the immigrant financially before agreeing to do so.

To succeed in your green card application, you must understand the public charge rule, analyze how it applies to your case, and overcome any doubt immigration may have about your financial situation.  A persuasive public-charge packet is a critical part of every successful family-based green card application!

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