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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
IF YOU HAVE FINANCIAL LIABILITIES
The public charge rule considers a wide range of financial liabilities to be “negative factors,” including:
- Car loans
- Credit card debts
- Tax debts
- 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.
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:
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:
If you are retired, provide evidence of income from:
|Financial assets and resources|
If counting your house, provide:
If counting your vehicle, provide evidence that you have more than one vehicle, including either:
If counting other assets and resources, provide:
For any asset listed above, provide documentation showing:
For mortgages, car loans, unpaid child or spousal support, unpaid taxes, and credit card debt, provide:
|Credit history and score||Credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus|
Credit score If negative, provide explanation on the form, including details about any:
No credit score
If you do not have a credit report or score, provide either:
|Health insurance coverage (if you have coverage)|
If you currently have health insurance, provide for each policy either:
If you received a Premium Tax Credit or Advanced Premium Tax Credit, provide all of the following
If you have recently or soon will enroll in insurance but coverage has not yet begun, provide:
|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:
For each benefit received, provide documentation showing:
Documentation that your benefit application was denied or rejected, including:
(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:
For spouses and children of military service members:
If you applied for or received a fee waiver on or after Oct. 15, provide:
If you have received a fee waiver in the past, and your situation has changed, provide:
|Education||Form I-140 approval, if applicable|
Evidence of any degrees, certifications, training, or licenses received, including but not limited to:
If school records are not available, provide:
If you attended school outside the U.S., provide:
(See National Association of Credential Evaluation Services for a list of members.)
If professional credentials are not available, provide:
|English or other language skills|
If you are not a native English speaker, provide:
If you are a native English speaker, provide:
- Version en español: La Norma de Carga Pública, explicada.
- Version en español: La política de Carga Pública y las solicitudes de Visa Americana presentadas fuera de los Estados Unidos