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Statutes of Liberty: Like the FAFSA, But So Much Worse — The New Public Charge Requirement

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

As of Monday, February 24, 2020, most green card applicants will need to clear an entirely new, extraordinarily complex hurdle: the Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency.

Our goal, in this brief article, is to provide readers with an overview of what the Trump Administration is demanding of green card applicants going forward. We encourage our U.S. citizen readers to imagine doing this for themselves.

Tax Return Transcripts

Previously, green card applicants were required to provide tax documentation in a form familiar to most Americans — mostly commonly a copy of Form 1040, plus Form W-2. This will no longer suffice. Now, green card applicants must provide tax return transcripts, which are produced by the IRS. Tax return transcripts are, in theory, available online. In practice, obtaining a tax return transcript online can be quite difficult, and so many people will need to file paper applications and wait for the IRS to answer.

If you’re applying for a green card, you’ll need a tax return transcript for yourself, plus a separate tax return transcript for each and every member of your household who filed a separate tax return.

Can’t figure out how to get tax return transcripts? Find an accountant, and get out your checkbook.

Household Assets and Resources

You’ll need to provide the net value of real estate — so, you had better dig up the deed and a recent appraisal by a licensed appraiser. Don’t have a recent appraisal? Get out your checkbook.

You’ll need to provide checking and savings account statements for the past twelve months. Yes, all of them. Enjoy your trip to the bank or, if you switched banks in the past year, to several banks.

If you have investments, you’ll need to provide statements showing their net cash value. This includes retirement investments, which are tallied separately. Can’t figure out the net cash value of liquidating your traditional IRA or 401(k)? Remember, you’ll need to calculate taxes and early withdrawal fees, so don’t leap to conclusions. Probably safest to find an accountant, and get out your checkbook.

Liabilities or Debts

You’ll need to provide documentation for each and every liability in your financial picture, including mortgages, car loans, child support, alimony, credit card debt and tax bills.

Having fun yet?

Credit Report

You’ll need to get a credit report. Did you freeze your credit after the recent Equifax scandal? Too bad, you’ll have to unfreeze it. If there are any errors in your credit report (and there frequently are), provide evidence that you’ve disputed the errors and that the error is under investigation.

If you don’t have a credit score, you’ll need to provide evidence of continued payment of bills. We have no idea what that means in practice.

Health Insurance

Provide your entire health insurance policy statement. Do you happen to know where that is, at the moment? Don’t even think about trying to provide a health insurance card as proof of insurance. That would be too easy; the instructions tell you not to do that.

Now that you have your insurance policy in hand, provide your annual deductible or your annual premium. If your policy statement doesn’t provide evidence of your annual deductible or premium, keep digging and find more documentation.

Public Benefits

Most applicants for a green card are not eligible for public benefits, and have never been, but some applicants are. There are nine different public benefits programs that you’ll need to review. Make sure you know your entire history of interaction with state and federal welfare programs for your entire life. Try not to confuse, say, your receipt of Medicaid (illegal, bad, no green card for you) with the provision of emergency Medicaid (legal, good, not a problem) or the receipt of ordinary Medicaid by your U.S. citizen child. Confusion of that sort could have dire consequences.

Immigration Fee Waivers

Did you ever apply for a waiver of fees on an immigration application in your entire life? Dig up that application. In practice, most people don’t keep copies of immigration applications, so we’ll be filing plenty of Freedom of Information Act requests for clients. Those take six months to come back.

Try not to think about the fact that USCIS has all of your immigration applications on  file, including your applications for past fee waivers, but USCIS is asking you to dig them up.

Curriculum Vitae

You’ll need to provide your educational history since high school, a description of any and all occupational certifications you have, a description of all of your skills (with the date of acquisition, whatever that means) and documentation thereof. Provide diplomas and transcripts for all of your degrees. Enjoy digging those up, too.

If you happened to go to a foreign university, prepare to obtain yet another piece of expensive paper: an educational equivalency certificate. We can’t provide that for you, only a dues-paying member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services can. Get out your checkbook.

English Language Ability

You’ll need to provide all certifications for courses you took in English. Native English speakers must provide proof that they speak English as a native. (How would you do this, dear reader?) The best source for that would be a college transcript showing that you studied English courses for credit. Better hope you have that transcript.

These new paperwork requirements will create an enormous administrative and financial burden. Is it good for accountants, lawyers and other specialists? Probably. Is it good for immigrants and their U.S. citizen relatives? Probably not. Do we all have to live with it? Yes, we do, for the foreseeable future. Are there any exceptions to these rules? Yes, but those exceptions are too complex to deal with here, save one. If you live in the Great State of Illinois, the new form simply doesn’t apply to you.

As always, be in touch with us directly if you need legal advice. If you have other sorts of questions, comment below. We love comments and will reply to all we can.

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