IMPORTANT UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s public charge rule will take effect on Feb. 24 after the Supreme Court lifted a nationwide injunction blocking the rule. This means that people applying for green cards and visas from within the United States — through a process known as “Adjustment of Status” — will soon be affected by the new rule.
The U.S. Department of State’s public charge policy, which was recently aligned with the DHS rule, was temporarily delayed from going into force on its scheduled effective date, Oct. 15. This means that people applying for green cards and visas from outside the United States — through a process called “Consular Processing” — are not currently affected by the policy changes.
The public charge rule allows the U.S. government to deny green cards and other visas to people it suspects won’t be able to financially support themselves when in the United States.
Once the rule takes effect on Feb. 24, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will evaluate green card applications based on a stricter set of criteria. Immigration officers will judge an applicant’s financial status using a 20-factor test. Read on to learn about each factor and what the government will take into consideration when assessing applications.
Public Charge Rule 20-Factor Test
1. Age: If an individual is younger than 18 or older than 61, the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.”
2. Health conditions: If an individual has been diagnosed with any “medical condition” that is “likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with the [individual’s] ability to provide and care for himself or herself, to attend school, or to work,” the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.”
3. Future medical costs: The adjudicator must determine whether the individual “has sufficient household assets and resources to cover any reasonably foreseeable medical costs,” including (but not necessarily limited to) costs related to a medical condition as described above. If not, the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.”
4. Insurability: If an individual is “uninsured” and determined to have “neither the prospect of obtaining private health insurance, nor the financial resources to pay for reasonably foreseeable medical costs related to such medical condition,” the adjudicator must consider this a “heavily weighted negative factor.”
5. Family size: The adjudicator must consider an individual’s household size, with a larger number household members constituting greater evidence that the individual is “more likely than not to become a public charge at any time in the future.” Thus, if relatives—such as multiple children or grandparents serving as caregivers—reside with an immigrant, the government can treat this as a factor to deny immigration benefits.
6. Income above 1.25 times the poverty line: The adjudicator must examine the individual’s annual gross household income, based on a more expansive definition of “household” than DHS has used for more than two decades in its requirements for a financial sponsor’s Affidavit of Support. If this income level is not greater than 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.” This determination can be overcome only upon the showing of significant financial assets.
7. Income above 2.5 times the poverty line: Income only becomes a “heavily weighted positive factor” if either the individual’s annual gross household income (or equivalent assets) or individual annual income is greater than 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
8. Credit: The adjudicator must evaluate the “credit history and credit score,” which may be deemed a “negative factor.”
9. Financial liabilities: The adjudicator must consider whether the individual has “any financial liabilities.” Such liabilities, including but not limited to “any mortgages, car loans, unpaid child or spousal support, unpaid taxes, and credit card debt” must be considered a “negative factor.”
10. Health insurance: Insurance coverage only becomes a “heavily weighted positive factor” if the individual has private health insurance other than plans subsidized under the Affordable Care Act.
11. Employment history: The adjudicator must evaluate the individual’s tax transcripts or “other credible and probative evidence of the [individual’s] history of employment” for the prior three years, and must determine whether this employment history—or alternatively, status as a “primary caregiver”—constitutes a “negative factor” or “positive factor.” If the adjudicator determines that the individual is “not a full-time student and is authorized to work, but is unable to demonstrate current employment, recent employment history, or a reasonable prospect of future employment,” this must be deemed a “heavily weighted negative factor.”
12. Education: If the individual lacks “a high school diploma (or its equivalent)” or “higher education degree,” the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.”
13. Skills: If the individual lacks “occupational skills, certifications, or licenses” the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.”
14. English proficiency: The adjudicator must determine whether the individual is sufficiently “proficient in English or proficient in other languages in addition to English,” and if not, this constitutes a “negative factor.”
15. Prospective immigration status: The adjudicator must consider “the immigration status that the [individual] seeks and the expected period of admission as it relates to the [individual’s] ability to financially support for himself or herself during the duration” of stay in the United States, and must decide whether this is a “positive” or “negative” factor.
16. Affidavit of support: The adjudicator must consider whether the individual has submitted an affidavit of support from a U.S. sponsor.
17. Sponsor reliability: The adjudicator must evaluate “the likelihood that the sponsor would actually provide the statutorily-required amount of financial support,” and decide whether this constitutes a “negative” or “positive factor.”
18. Public benefits: The adjudicator must consider whether the individual has applied for or received certain public benefits, and any such application or receipt must be considered a “negative factor.” If the individual has received certain public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period, the adjudicator must consider this a “heavily weighted negative factor.”
19. Fee waivers: If the individual has applied for certain fee waivers from DHS, the adjudicator must consider this a “negative factor.”
20. Prior immigration proceedings: If the individual has been “previously found inadmissible or deportable on public charge grounds by an Immigration Judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals,” the adjudicator must designate this a “heavily weighted negative factor.”