Your ‘Public Charge’ Checklist


What to do — and how to improve your chances of approval — if you’re at risk of denial under the new “public charge rule”



The new “public charge rules” may take effect on or soon after Oct. 15, 2019.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s public charge rule is currently blocked from taking effect on Oct. 15. This means that people applying for green cards and visas from within the United States — through a process known as “Adjustment of Status” — are not currently affected by the new rule.

The U.S. Department of State’s public charge policy, which was recently aligned with the DHS rule, is also temporarily delayed from going into force on its scheduled effective date, also 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.


Are you at risk?

If your green card application is in danger of denial under either of the new “public charge rules,” you might be wondering how to avoid that outcome — or at least improve your chances of success.

While it’s difficult to predict the government’s decisions, which involve a lot of discretion on the part of immigration and consular officers, there are ways to mitigate the negative impact of the new rule on your application. The specific steps that might make sense for you depend on your level of public charge risk, either “low” or “moderate to high.”

In this guide, we’ve outlined the various actions you can take now to reasonably boost your approval chances if you’re in the danger zone. We’ve also put together a list of all the new evidence that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—and likely the State Department—plans to require with a green card application.


Are you at risk of denial under the DHS public charge rule?
Find out if you’re in danger.


Moderate to High Risk


If you have used the Public Charge Estimator Tool and found you have a moderate or high risk of being considered a “public charge,” then your green card application likely has more negative factors working against your favor than positive factors.

But you may still have options for reducing your risk. These options largely depend on the areas where you find yourself particularly vulnerable:


Health

An existing medical condition, especially one that’s likely to incur significant cost or prevent you from performing daily activities, would be considered a negative factor on your green card application.

It’s therefore generally a good idea to get private health insurance coverage as proof that you can afford medical treatment. Having unsubsidized private health insurance is one of the “heavily positive” factors in the public charge test and could help outweigh the other negative factors that could be counted against you.

What is unsubsidized private health insurance?

Coverage through an employer is the most common type of unsubsidized private health insurance.

Individuals can also purchase private plans through the health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the ACA provides subsidies (“premium tax credits”) for any eligible applicant with an income less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, and the public charge rule specifically excludes such plans from being a “heavily positive” factor.

In other words, for households under 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (which is most households), having an ACA plan alone will probably not help overcome the public charge rule. (For more details about these plans and subsidies, see this guide.)


Short-term health plans

Even if you’re a relatively healthy individual, as demonstrated in your green card medical exam, it’s generally still a good idea to purchase private health insurance, especially if you have other negative factors on your application not related to poor health, such as a lack of English proficiency or an age outside of the designated working years (18–61).

If that’s your goal, then it might be worth looking into short-term health insurance plans. A few important things to keep in mind about these types of plans:

  • They do not meet ACA standards (“minimum essential coverage” requirements).
  • They do not cover pre-existing conditions, so they’re only a good option if you’re already healthy.
  • They generally only last 6–12 months, and some states won’t let you extend beyond that.
  • There’s typically no open enrollment period — you can apply anytime.
  • We don’t know yet how immigration and consular officers will evaluate various insurance policies, so these plans may or may not be deemed a “heavily positive” factor in the public charge test.

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Education and Skills

IF YOU’RE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PROFICIENT IN ENGLISH

Lack of English proficiency will negatively affect your green card application under the public charge rule, which is why getting certified for English language skills is a worthwhile pursuit. It not only will improve your U.S. employment prospects in general but also help you avoid a negative determination under the public charge test.

How can I get certified?

English language courses are offered at just about every U.S. college or university. In many cases, they may offer ESL (English as a Second Language) programs designed for non-native English speakers. Start by checking with your nearest community college, as tuition at this type of school is generally cheaper, especially for international students.

You may also find such courses online if there’s no traditional higher education institution near you. Udemy, for instance, is a popular virtual learning platform that offers an “Intensive English Course” for only $13 and awards a certificate upon completion, which will be vital to proving your English proficiency to the government. Some courses are even offered for free or with a free trial and taught by professors from various U.S. universities, such as this class taught by the Georgia Institute of Technology available through Coursera, or these ESL options from edX.

Before enrolling, make sure to find out whether the program you’re interested in will award a completion certificate.

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IF YOU DO NOT HAVE PROFESSIONAL SKILLS

To avoid being penalized under the public charge rule for lack of professional skills, it’s generally helpful to obtain an occupational certification or license. First, it’s important to understand the difference between a certification, which is obtained through a nongovernmental body, and a license, which is granted by a government agency, and allows a professional to work in a particular field or industry.

Certificates and licenses vary depending on the skills you wish to learn. But the most common industries requiring certifications and licenses are health care, education, law, social services, and many science occupations, among others.

It’s helpful to know which industries demand the most workers. Also note that obtaining a certification or license requires upfront costs, including getting the education you need to prepare for certification or licensure, plus the cost of earning the industry credential.

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Assets, Resources, and Financial Status

The public charge rule looks most favorably upon the wealthiest applicants, particularly those who have a household income of at least 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household size, which is one of the factors considered “heavily positive.”

Based on this criterion alone, about 56% of all family-based green card applicants could be at risk under the public charge test. While it’s unlikely you can boost your household income in a short period of time, there are other financial factors that might be easier to improve before filing a green card application.


IF YOU HAVE A negative CREDIT HISTORY OR “POOR” CREDIT SCORE

The government plans to look for a clean credit history and a “good” credit score under the public charge rule, though it doesn’t specify an exact range or threshold, or any particular credit score brand (there are several). But in all likelihood, the cleaner your credit report and the higher your credit score, the better your chances of approval.

Start by checking your credit report on AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the only federally authorized source of free credit reports from the three major credit bureaus in the United States. Every 12 months, you’re entitled to a copy of each report, one from every credit bureau. You’re likely to have one if you’ve ever opened a credit account, such as a credit card or loan, in the United States. (Rent and utility-bill payments are not reported to the major credit bureaus.) The worst notations you can have on your credit report are bankruptcies, collections accounts, and late payments. If these appear on your credit report, then it’s a sign that your credit score may not be as good as it could be.

Credit scores are calculated based on the contents of your credit reports. There are many different types of credit scores, but the most widely used in the financial industry are those from FICO and VantageScore. According to FICO, a score of at least 670 is “good,” and in theory the government is likely to consider this “good,” as well. If your score is below that number, then it’s wise to start improving it now. Bad records can take 7–10 years to fall off your credit report—but errors, which are common in U.S. credit reports, are much easier and take far less time to remove. Taking this simple step could provide a useful lift to your credit score.

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IF YOU HAVE FINANCIAL LIABILITIES

The public charge rule considers a wide range of financial liabilities to be “negative factors,” including:

  • Mortgages
  • Car loans
  • Credit card debts
  • Tax debts
  • Liens
  • Education-related loans
  • Personal Loans
  • Unpaid child or spousal support

Paying off debts — if you have the means — could increase your chances of approval for a green card, though it is still unclear what kind and size of debt the government is most likely to consider problematic.

While it’s likely not possible for most people to pay off their mortgage in a short period of time, it could help to tackle as many smaller debts as possible. For example, you could try to wipe out as much of your credit card balances as you can before you submit your green card application. Payments are reported to the credit bureaus — and therefore reflected in your credit reports and scores — often as soon as your monthly credit card statements are generated by your financial institution. Just make sure to print out receipts of your payments to prove you’ve taken care of these liabilities.

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Do you stand a chance against the DHS public charge rule? The Boundless Public Charge Risk Estimator can help you determine your chance of success.


Low Risk


Even if the Public Charge Risk Estimator designates your situation as “low risk,” it’s a good idea for anyone to start collecting all the new evidence that the government will require with a green card application.

Here’s a list of the supporting documents you’ll need, according to USCIS:

CategoryRequired Document
Income

IRS tax transcripts from most recent tax year for every household member whose income will be counted

If you are/were not required to file taxes, provide either:

  • Form W-2
  • Social Security statement

If you are retired, provide evidence of income from:

  • Pensions
  • Social Security
  • Other retirement benefits
Financial assets and resources

If counting your house, provide:

  • Net value of your or household member’s home (calculated as appraised value minus sum of all loans secured by a mortgage, trust deed, or other lien on the home)
  • Proof of ownership (deed)
  • Recent appraisal by a licensed appraiser
  • Evidence of amount of all loans secured on the home

If counting your vehicle, provide evidence that you have more than one vehicle, including either:

  • Title for each vehicle
  • Loan or lien on each vehicle

If counting other assets and resources, provide:

  • Checking and savings account statements from past 12 months
  • Annuity statements
  • Stock and bond statements showing cash value
  • Certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • Retirement accounts
  • Educational savings accounts
  • Net cash value of real estate holdings
  • Any other evidence of substantial assets that can be easily converted into cash within 1 year

For any asset listed above, provide documentation showing:

    • Name of asset holder
    • Description of asset
    • Proof of ownership
    • Net cash value of the owner’s portion of the asset
Financial liabilities

For mortgages, car loans, unpaid child or spousal support, unpaid taxes, and credit card debt, provide:

  • Document that “created” the liability, if applicable

Examples:

    • Mortgage agreement
    • Judgment for child or spousal support
    • IRS tax bill

  • At least 6 months of proof of on-time payments

Examples:

    • Bank statements
    • Payment confirmations
    • Credit cards statements
    • IRS Direct Pay confirmations
    • IRS Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request
    • IRS Form 1040-V, Payment Voucher

  • Any documentation regarding when the liability is expected to end

Examples:

    • 10- or 30-year mortgage
    • Loan repayment plan
    • IRS Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request
Credit history and scoreCredit report from any of the three major credit bureaus

Credit score If negative, provide explanation on the form, including details about any:

  • Delinquent account(s)
  • Debt collection(s)
  • Charge-off(s)
  • Repossession(s)
  • Foreclosure(s)
  • Judgment(s)
  • Tax lien(s)
  • Bankruptcy (include evidence of resolution, if applicable)

No credit score

If you do not have a credit report or score, provide either:

  • Documentation that demonstrates that you do not have a credit report or score with a credit bureau
  • Evidence of continued payment of bills
Health insurance coverage (if you have coverage)

If you currently have health insurance, provide for each policy either:

  • Copy of each policy page showing terms and type of coverage for individuals covered
  • Letter on company letterhead or other evidence from the insurance company stating current enrollment and providing terms and type of coverage
  • Most recent Form 1095-B, Health Coverage
  • Most recent Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage (if available), with evidence of renewal of coverage for the current year
  • Health insurance card showing coverage effective and expiration dates

If you received a Premium Tax Credit or Advanced Premium Tax Credit, provide all of the following

  • IRS transcript
  • IRS Form 8963, Premium Tax Credit (PTC)
  • Copy of IRS Form 1095A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement
  • Documentation showing your annual deductible or annual premium
  • Documentation of coverage termination date and renewal deadline

If you have recently or soon will enroll in insurance but coverage has not yet begun, provide:

  • Letter or other evidence from company showing enrollment or future enrollment date for plan (must include coverage terms, type, name of insured, and start date)
No health insurance coverage

Provide explanation of how you plan to pay for reasonably anticipated medical costs

You may provide any documentation that may outweigh any negative factors related to a medical condition, including but not limited to:

  • Information provided by a civil surgeon or panel physician on a medical examination
  • Letter from treating physician attesting to the prognosis of any medical condition and whether this condition impacts your ability to work or go to school
  • Sufficient assets and resources to pay the costs of any reasonably anticipated medical treatment
Public benefits

For each benefit received, provide documentation showing:

  • Agency that granted the benefit
  • Coverage start date
  • Coverage end date
  • Amount received
  • Enrollment statement/eligibility determination
  • Monthly statements
  • Proof of disenrollment (or request to disenroll)
  • Proof of withdrawal request (plus proof that agency received your request to withdraw)

Documentation that your benefit application was denied or rejected, including:

  • Evidence from a federal, state, local, or tribal agency showing you do not or would not qualify for a benefit by virtue of income or prospective immigration status

(Benefits funded in full by a state government do not need to be disclosed.)

If you are entitled to an exemption, provide:

For U.S. Armed Forces Service Members:

  • Certified evidence of your enlistment/service issued by the authorizing official of the executive department in which service member is serving

For spouses and children of military service members:

  • Form DD-1173, U.S. Uniformed Services ID and Privilege Card (dependent)
  • Federally funded Medicaid
  • Statement regarding your “emergency medical condition” determination
  • Documentation of payments under the IDEA or school-based service
  • Pregnancy verification letter from medical professional including estimated duration of pregnancy

If you applied for or received a fee waiver on or after Oct. 15, provide:

  • Copy of fee waiver (Form I-912) approval notice

If you have received a fee waiver in the past, and your situation has changed, provide:

  • Explanation of how/why the change occurred, plus documentation of the change
EducationForm I-140 approval, if applicable

Evidence of any degrees, certifications, training, or licenses received, including but not limited to:

  • Diplomas
  • Transcripts
  • Degrees
  • Professional certificates
  • Professional licenses

If school records are not available, provide:

  • Explanation and evidence of unavailability (letter from issuing organization or institution)

If you attended school outside the U.S., provide:

  • Evaluation of equivalency to education/degrees acquired at U.S. accredited colleges/universities/educational institutions

(See National Association of Credential Evaluation Services for a list of members.)

If professional credentials are not available, provide:

  • Explanation and evidence of unavailability (letter from issuing organization or institution)
English or other language skills

If you are not a native English speaker, provide:

  • Language certifications (ESL, etc)
  • Evidence of past or current language or literacy classes
  • Transcripts
  • Diploma or certificate of completion
  • Proficiency test results (such as TOEFL or Cambridge Assessment)

If you are a native English speaker, provide:

  • High school diplomas
  • College degrees showing that the native language was studied for credit


How well would your application fare under the public charge test? Find out using the Boundless Public Charge Risk Estimator.


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