On July 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a nationwide temporary suspension of the application of the February 24th 2020 Public Charge Grounds Final Rule. The injunction of this rule will apply to any period during which there is a declared national health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As long as the July 29th decision is in effect, USCIS will only apply the 1999 Public Charge Guidance established before the Public Charge Grounds Final Rule.
On March 26th, 1999, “public charge” was defined by Immigration and Naturalization Services as a ground of inadmissibility for which an alien may be denied immigration. A “public charge” refers to an individual “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” In August 2019, DHS announced a new rule that would alter this definition of “public charge,” so that it made individuals receiving the following benefits are inadmissible for permanent residence: Supplement Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid (with some exceptions), and certain public housing assistance. This secured self-sufficiency of permanent resident applicants, so that these individuals would not rely on American public resources. The change to the definition of “public charge” was adopted on February 24th, 2020, so that both applicants applying for permanent residents in the U.S. as well as those seeking immigration from abroad would be impacted. Until February 24th, 2020, the use of most public benefits did not have negative consequences to an immigrant’s legal status.
As long as the July 29, 2020 injunction is in place, USCIS will uphold the existing 1999 public charge guidance, rather than the Trump administration’s expanded rule. This injunction will certainly soften the process for permanent resident applicants, and will be applied throughout the COVID-19 national health emergency.
On July 29th, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York concluded that the plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence to show that the February 2020 Public Charge Final Rule deterred immigrants from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, fearing that this would make them consequently inadmissible to the United States. This, of course, complicates efforts at stopping the coronavirus and even further aggravates the spread of the pandemic. An injunction, the plaintiffs argued, would be in the general American public’s interest.
This injunction applies to adjustment of status applications and to non-immigration change or extension of status. For any petition filed after July 29, 2020, the applicant or the petitioner does not need to include the Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. If an applicant or petitioner has already submitted this form, USCIS will not consider the information on this form regarding receipt of public benefits. Additionally, the applicant and petitioner do not need to include information on the receipt of public benefits in Part 5 on Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant status, Part 3 on Form I-539A, or Part 6 on Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.
On its website, USCIS has announced that it will issue guidance regarding the use of affected forms.