Form DS-5540, Explained

How to complete the new “Public Charge Questionnaire” form

“Public charge rule” requires green card applicants to show they can financially support themselves

In early 2020, the U.S. government implemented changes in form requirements for would-be green card holders, under the new “public charge” rule. Would-be immigrants now face significant additional scrutiny of their personal finances and their ability to support themselves. One key change under the rule is that starting Feb. 24, anyone using the consular processing option — when the spouse seeking a green card lives and applies from outside the United States — must file Form DS-5540 (officially called the “Public Charge Questionnaire”) along with their regular application package.

Form DS-5540 is used to collect information about you, including your health, financial status, and household size. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials will use those details to determine whether an applicant can support themselves, and the likelihood of that applicant becoming a public charge (a person that uses public benefits).

It is really important to fill out Form DS-5540 accurately and provide all information required. If officials decide you’re likely to become a public charge, they could deny your green card application.

In this guide:

  1. What is Form DS-5540?
  2. Who needs to file Form DS-5540?
  3. How to fill DS-5540 out?
  4. What supporting documents are needed?

The public charge questionnaire is a complicated new addition to the green card process, and if you make any errors your application could be delayed or denied. When you partner with Boundless, an independent attorney will review your whole application, including Form DS-5540 and all your supporting documents, and answer all your questions. Learn more about our services, or find out whether you qualify for a green card — without providing any personal information.

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What is Form DS-5540

Form DS-5540, public charge questionnaire

The Public Charge Questionnaire, or Form DS-5540, introduced in February 2020, is a way for USCIS to assess the economic resources of a would-be immigrant.

Form DS-5540 is used in addition to Form I-864 (“Affidavit of Support”), completed by a green card applicant’s sponsoring relative to show that the sponsor has the financial means to support the applicant. Form DS-5540, however, is used to prove the applicant’s financial stability, rather than their sponsor’s.

The form’s intent is to determine whether you are more likely than not to need to use public benefits for more than 12 months within any 36-month period. This test is applied “in aggregate,” meaning that using 2 separate benefits at the same time for 6 months, or 4 separate benefits for 3 months, would count as 12 months of total benefit use.

DS-5540 is assessed by a consular officer, who will weigh what is called the “totality of circumstances” of an applicant. That means that not only are the financial resources of an applicant under consideration, but also their household size, health and age, as well as future employability.

Some factors are “heavily weighted” and viewed as more important , while other factors are less important. At the time of this writing, it is not clear how USCIS will weigh positive and negative factors against one another. This means that it is very important that the form be filled out with as much information as possible and with consideration of all details that cast the applicant in a positive light.

If all this sounds complicated and confusing, don’t worry! With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney who will review your application and answer all of your questions. Learn more about what you get with Boundless, or start your application.

Who needs to file Form DS-5540?

Almost anyone applying for a green card through the consular process must include this form in their application.

There are a few situations that are exempt from the public charge rule, and don’t need to file Form DS-5540. That includes applying for a green card on humanitarian grounds, through family ties to a deceased U.S. soldier, through special programs such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, or as a victim of crime.

How to fill out a DS-5540

The good news? Form DS-5540 is only 4 pages — relatively short compared to Form I-944, which needs to be filed by those already residing in the United States. But it still asks for a lot of data, for which you can/may need to provide supporting documents. Below we break down the form, part by part.

Part 1: (General) Information about You

In this section, you’ll be asked to provide your name, age, and whether or not you have ever been in the United States before, with dates if applicable. Ages between 18-61 are considered positive in weighing applications.

Part 2: Your Health

This part asks for your current health insurance coverage in the United States, or your plans for coverage within 30 days of entry.

Part 3: Your Household Size

Here, you are asked to list the expected members of your household in the United States.

Household members include:

  • You (the person seeking the green card)
  • Your spouse
  • Your children if they will be living with you
  • Any children who will not be living with you in the United States but receive at least 50% of their financial support from you
  • Any person who receives at least 50% of their financial support from you
  • Any person whom you listed as a dependent on your latest federal income tax return
  • Any person who provides you with at least 50% of your financial support
  • Any person who listed you as a dependent on their latest federal income tax return

Part 4: Your Assets, Resources and Financial Status

There is only one part to this section, but it takes up the next 3 pages of the form.

Information collected in this section includes:

  • All U.S. federal tax returns you have filed within the last 3 years. You are also required to attach your IRS transcript (or copy of the complete, filed tax return) for your most recent U.S. federal tax return.
  • Tax status for the last 3 years. If you have worked in the United States. at all during that time, you will be required to answer, and include, with explanation if necessary, whether or not you filed taxes for the period in question.
  • Income. Be prepared to provide:
    • Yearly salary in U.S. dollars.
    • Employment status: If you currently have a job waiting for you, please provide contact information, and expected compensation.
    • Any income that you will continue to receive after your arrival in the United States (for example, rent, stock dividends, foreign pension, child support) not listed under the section above.
  • Any additional assets such as cash assets, including checking and savings accounts, and non-cash assets including equity in real estate, annuities, and securities.
  • Debts and liabilities. If they’re asking for your assets, they’re also going to want to look at any debts or liabilities you might have.
  • Any public benefit you have received on or after February 24, 2020 from the U.S. government including:
    • “Any Federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, including supplemental security income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
    • Housing Choice Voucher Program;
    • Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation);
    • Subsidized Housing;
    • Medicaid, except for benefits received for an emergency medical condition, services or benefits funded by Medicaid but provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school-based services or benefits provided to individuals of secondary school age, benefits received by an alien under 21 years of age, or benefits received by a woman during pregnancy or during the 60-day period beginning on the last day of the pregnancy.

Additional information can be attached. Should you have more assets than lines provided for, prepare that information in the same format as the section items you are providing, and specify what part of the form and section number the additional information correlates to. For example, if you have more sources of income than the 3 lines provided, attach a document that refers to Part 4, Section 8C.

Part 5 – Education And Skills

This section asks for your education level as well as any occupation skills and certifications

Part 6 and 7: Preparer and Translator

This section collects information on any third parties that helped in the preparation of the form.

Boundless prepares you for success. We stay with you until the finish line — helping you respond to government questions and get ready for your green card interview. Ready to start?

What supporting documents are needed?

You’ll need to include supporting documents with Form DS-5540. Bank statements, bond certificates, deeds, degrees, and proof of certifications for occupational awards and certificates may all positively influence an application.

ds-5540 document checklist

  • Beneficiary’s proof of current or future health insurance and coverage in the United States
  • Beneficiary’s U.S. IRS tax return transcript (or copy of complete, filed U.S. federal tax return with all schedules, W-2s, 1099s, and other attachments) for the most recent tax filing year
  • Beneficiary’s pay stubs from the last 6 months or other proof of income
  • Beneficiary’s verification of employment letter as evidence of current employment or employment-offer letter/intent-to-hire letter for future employment
  • Beneficiary’s proof of additional income (examples of additional, or nontaxable, income include stock dividends, non-U.S. pensions, Social Security benefits, and child-support payments)
  • Beneficiary’s proof of assets documentation: Most recent statement for each asset listed on Form DS-5540 and 12 months of banking statements from a checking or savings account
  • Beneficiary’s proof of debts and liabilities: Most recent statement for each liability or debt listed on the form DS-5540 displaying name of owner and amount owed
  • Beneficiary’s proof of completion of high/secondary school-equivalent level of education (diploma and/or school transcript)
  • Beneficiary’s proof of additional education completed (school transcript and/or diploma)
  • Beneficiary’s evidence of job skills, certifications, or licenses, if any

    Please remember that all documents originally issued in a language other than English must be accompanied by a certified English translation


How does the process work?

You’ll send your Form DS-5540 along with your other immigration forms and all your supporting documents as part of your complete green card application.

If you submitted your green card application prior to Feb. 24, when the public charge rule went into effect, you may want to bring a completed Form DS-5540 to your green card interview, in case a consular officer asks to see it.

Boundless guides you through the document gathering process before you send everything off to the government. Get started today!

Is there a fee?

Good news: there’s currently no filing fee for Form DS-5540. You’ll still have to pay the fees associated with the rest of your green card application, and you might face some extra out-of-pocket expenses as you collect all the additional supporting documents you’ll need.

To keep costs low, remember that Boundless can help you complete your entire green card application, including Form DS-5540, at a single flat rate of $950. That includes all the required forms and supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support from the moment your application is filed until you receive your green card. Learn more, or check your eligibility for free.

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