Applicants for U.S. Visas Must Now Fill Out Public Charge Questionnaire

U.S. Department of State revisions to Foreign Affairs Manual make it much harder for people seeking either temporary visas or lawful permanent residence in the U.S. to prove that they have the financial means to live here without relying on government support.

** LEGAL UPDATE **

In a parallel move to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) having passed new regulations regarding who is inadmissible to the U.S. as a likely public charge, the U.S. Department of State has revised its Foreign Affairs Manual. (See 9 FAM 302.8.) This manual governs how overseas embassies and consulates issue visas for U.S. entry.

The changes will make it much harder for people seeking either temporary visas or lawful permanent residence in the U.S. to prove that they have the financial means to live here without relying on government support. They place the focus of the consular officer's decision regarding the "totality" of applicants' circumstances, taking into account not only the visa applicant's job or a promise of family support, but age, health (including whether the person will have health insurance), household size, education and skills, assets, resources, length of time to be spent in the U.S., and so on.

What's more, any applicant (with a few exceptions) who has applied for or received one or more defined public benefits in the U.S. for a total of 12 months within any 36-month period is a presumed public charge. The listed benefits include things like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), federal, state or local cash programs (often called "General Assistance"), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often called "Food Stamps"), Housing Choice Vouchers, and so on.

As a practical matter, one of the main issues applicants for visas now face is the possibility of being asked to fill out a new form and provide additional financial information. All immigrant visa applicants, whether applying through an employer, family, or other ground, will have to fill out the Form DS-5540 Public Charge Questionnaire.

Applicants for nonimmigrant visas (such as F-1 or M-1 student, H-1B or other employment-based visa, or B-1 or B-2 visitor) may also be asked to fill out the DS-5540.

This form asks specific questions about the applicant's income, health coverage, household size, financial resources and assets, past receipt of public benefits, and so on.

Depending on their answers to questions, applicants might also need to submit some backup documentation along with the form, such as IRS tax transcripts if they've paid taxes in the United States. Applicants should, however, prepare for the possibility that the consular officer at the interview will ask for other financial documents.

Effective Date: February 24,2020