A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Immigrants Must Disclose Their Financial Information in Form I-944

For many foreign nationals, the U.S. immigration process is synonymous with endless application forms and documentation. Recent implementation of the Public Charge Grounds final rule means that intending immigrants have to deal with yet another form, the I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency.  

DHS first published the Public Charge rule on 10/10/2018.  Despite strong opposition from the immigrant groups and fierce litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared all roadblocks and allowed the rule to take effect on 02/24/2020.  

The new rule applies to applicants of both immigrant and non-immigrant visa / status inside and outside of the United States.  For visa applicants in overseas American Consulates, DOS has implemented an Interim Final Rule and created a new Form DS-5540, Public Charge Questionnaire, for them to complete.

Applicants for adjustment of status (I-485) in the United States must now complete the Form I-944 to prove that they are financially sufficient and are not likely to depend on public benefits. 

The 18-page long I-944 form questions everything about the applicant's financial status including their assets, debts, income level, education, special skills, language ability, etc.

Income includes income from both legal and illegal activities.  Debts include mortgages, auto loans, credit card loans, personal loans, etc.  The form also asks for the income and asset information of the household members of the applicant.

In addition, applicants must also provide their recent credit reports and credit scores  Unfavorable credit history or low credit scores must be explained.  Previous bankruptcy filings must also be disclosed.

Applicants must also provide information about their medical health insurance, the annual deductibles and premiums.  Those who don't have proof of health insurance must explain how they plan to pay for their medical expenses.

The I-944 form also specifically asks if the applicant has received any public benefits. Those who have received cash benefits such as SSI, Section 8 housing assistance, Food Stamps, TANF, etc., must report the details of the benefits received.  Applicants who have previously applied for or certified for these benefits, even if their applications were denied, must provide the relevant information.

In addition to completing the form, applicant must also provide supporting documents such as tax return transcripts, credit reports, proof of assets and liabilities, public benefit documents, health insurance policy, etc.

It is too early to fully understand how the government may use the I-944 information to determine an applicant's ability to be support himself. Applicants should review their financial situation carefully before submitting their immigration petitions.  Issues such as receipt of public assistance, serious health issues not covered by health insurance, high debt level, poor credit score, etc. are red flags and should be addressed as early as possible.

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