In 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) created a new form known as the I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. Its purpose is to screen out applicants for adjustment of status (a green card, applied for in the U.S.) who are likely to become dependent on government support; that is, become a "public charge," under the Trump Administration's revised definition of this ground of inadmissibility.
This article explains how to prepare this form for submission. Brace yourself: It's as involved as applying for a mortgage, requiring you to supply detailed financial information and documents for yourself and every member of your household.
Form I-944 is available for free download on the I-944 page of the USCIS website. This article discusses the version of the form issued 10/15/19.
If you are a foreign-born person submitting an adjustment of status packet (the main form for which is the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) to USCIS, and you are not among the types of applicants exempt from proving that they're not inadmissible to the U.S. as a likely public charge, then you must fill out Form I-944.
If, for example, you're applying for lawful permanent or conditional residence based on a spousal or other family relationship, you can pretty much count on having to prepare this form. But even employment-based green card applicants will need to fill it out, though the odds of them being found inadmissible are far less since they're coming to the U.S. to work.
Adjustment of status applicants who are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility, and who therefore need not worry about Form I-944, include:
There's one more exception, though it might be a temporary one. People living in the state of Illinois are not covered by the latest version of the public charge rule because it has been blocked by a federal court there, while awaiting the end of the litigation on this matter. For details and updates, see the USCIS webpage regarding the Illinois case.
If you do need to submit Form I-944, do so along with your adjustment of status packet.
Although much of the information that this form requires is self-explanatory, we'll highlight questions that might give you pause. You'll also want to carefully read the instructions that USCIS provides on its website.
Questions 1-2: Enter your name and address, making sure to use the same ones as on your other application forms.
Question 3: The Alien Registration Number is an eight- or nine-digit number following a letter A that USCIS would have assigned to you if you previously applied for permanent (or, in some cases, temporary) residence or been in deportation/removal proceedings. Of course, if that previous application was denied because you were inadmissible or lied on that application, call a lawyer before going any further.
Question 4: It's entirely possible that you have no USCIS online account number, in which case leave this blank.
Questions 5-7: Self explanatory.
Question 1: List and provide basic biographical information for yourself and all other members of your "household." That means, assuming you are an adult applicant: 1) you 2) your spouse, if he or she physically lives with you 3) any children under the age of 21 and unmarried who physically live with you 4) any other children under the age of 21 and unmarried who don't physically live with you but for whom you provide or are required to provide at least 50% of financial support under either a child support or custody order or agreement or any other such order or agreement specifying how much support money you must provide 5) anyone else, such as a husband or wife who doesn't physically live with you, to whom you provide, or are required to provide, at least 50% of financial support, or who is listed as a dependent on your federal income tax return, and 6) anyone who gives you at least 50% of your financial support, or who lists you as a dependent on a federal income tax return.
(For child applicants the list is slightly different, based on the idea that they live with parents; see the instructions to Form I-944.)
It's important to get this section right, because it goes to the heart of this form's purpose: whether you will be self-supporting in the United States.
Question 1: Enter information on your and your household members' total gross income (without subtracting taxes and expenses), and on whether you and the others filed a tax return with the IRS. It's possible, if your income wasn't low enough, that you weren't required to file taxes at all. This won't help your ability to prove that your household is self-supporting, however. You will be expected to show a total household income at 125% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines for the area in which you live (which is the same as the U.S. sponsor of a family member must show in filling out USCIS Form I-864). If you underreported your income, it might be best to file an amended return, pay the tax you owe, and then complete your immigration paperwork. Discuss this with an attorney.
Questions 2-3: Amounts earned from illegal activity will not help show your self-sufficiency. Consult with an attorney if you have such earnings.
Questions 4-5: Now we come to one of the central issues explored in this form: whether you or any members of your family have received need-based cash benefits from government sources. As explained in the USCIS regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 212.21(b), this includes things like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), federal, state or local cash benefit programs (commonly called “general assistance”), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 Housing Assistance, Medicaid, and so on.
These amounts will ultimately not be counted in your household income. With receipt of benefits in your recent history plus a low income, you might be found inadmissible.
Questions 6-8: List and give details about any sources of income that aren't reflected on your tax return, such as child support. Again, you'll need to explain whether any of that money came from illegal activity.
Question 9: List household assets, such as real estate, an extra car, or investment accounts. These can help raise household income levels, though at a percentage of their full value. Also, they need to be convertible to cash within a 12-month period. See the instructions to the form for details. Be sure to include proof of value or ownership, where possible.
Question 10: Here, you'll need to disclose how much debt you have, such as a home mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt. You'll also need to attach copies of documents backing up the information.
Questions 11-14: Provide information about your credit report and score, including whether you've ever been in bankruptcy. See Steps to Cleaning Up Your Credit Report for help on improving this before you file. As always, you'll need to document the information you provide.
Question 15: Give information about, and documentation proving, your health insurance in the U.S., if any. Because the U.S. has no nationalized form of health insurance, this can be a significant barrier for immigrants, particularly if their U.S. petitioner/sponsor doesn't have employer-covered health insurance. Again, receiving Medicaid is problematic, because it's only for low-income people, and can result in you being found inadmissible as a likely public charge.
Questions 16-18: Give details on any public benefits you have received.
Questions 19-21: Look at these questions carefully. Answering "yes" to one of them could save your application, because it might mean you're all or partly exempt from the public charge rules (for Question 20, as concerns Medicaid only).
Questions 22-25: Even if you haven't received public benefits, USCIS wants to know whether you applied for it.
Question 26: Past requests to USCIS for a waiver of an application fee will also be considered in deciding whether you are a likely public charge.
Here's your chance to prove that you're employable or will be employed in the United States.
Question 1: Only applicants coming to the U.S. on an employment-based immigrant visa can answer yes to this.
Questions 2-7: Self-explanatory, regarding your education and skills. Don't lie, but don't forget anything, either!
You must affirm that you understand and swear to the information in this form, provide contact information, state whether someone else filled it out for you, and sign here.
If you had help from a foreign-language interpreter in filling out the form, that person needs to fill in this section and sign it.
If you filled out this form unassisted, write N/A here. A little typing assistance or advice from a friend doesn’t count; the only people who need to complete this line are lawyers or agencies who fill out these forms on others’ behalf.
Leave this blank for now.
This provides added space, in case you need it to finish your answers to any of the questions.
Once you're done filling out the form, go through the USCIS instructions carefully, to determine the implications of the information you provided, and to make sure you're attaching all relevant documents.
See a lawyer if you're concerned about being found inadmissible.