Understanding the Purpose of Form I-944
The Trump administration has made it a priority to reduce immigration, a campaign promise he has honored through numerous strategies. One approach is through a transformation of the country’s “public charge” rules, in which immigrants seeking green cards must prove they are unlikely to become dependent on government benefits in the future. This requires a new level of scrutiny from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and is facilitated through Form I-944, the Declaration of Self-Sufficiency.
Completing Form I-944 correctly is essential to obtaining a green card. Any mistakes or errors could result in your application being rejected, forcing you to begin the process from the beginning. Below, we cover the steps on how to correctly file the Declaration of Self-Sufficiency.
Who Needs to File Form I-944?
Practically all green card applicants will now have their likelihood of becoming a public charge assessed by USCIS. However, only those applying for an Adjustment of Status – or those seeking a green card while currently in the United States – need to file Form I-944. They will need to submit Form I-944 in conjunction with Form I-485 – their green card application.
Those applying through consular processing will have their self-sufficiency evaluated based on information on their application and interview. In other words, if you are applying for a green card while living outside the United States, you do not need to file Form I-944.
There are a few additional exceptions to having to file Form I-944, including:
- If you are applying as a crime victim
- If you are applying on humanitarian grounds
- If you are applying through a familial relationship with a deceased U.S. soldier
- If you are applying through an eligible special program, including the Cuban Adjustment Act
Additionally, the new public charge changes to immigration have been the subject of legal challenges. As of August 12, 2020, an appeals court ruled that a previous decision halting the country-wide enforcement of the new procedures, including Form I-944, only applied to the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. In other words, if you are applying for Adjustment of Status from these states, you do not need to fill out Form I-944 as of this writing.
Components of File Form I-944 and How to Complete Them
Form I-944 is an exhaustive application that will require a thorough examination of you and your family’s personal finances, health history, and other personal details. It can be easy to mistakes, and you may want to consider retaining the services of an experienced immigration lawyer to help make sure you have filled everything out correctly. Below, we cover each portion of the form to give you an idea of what to expect.
Part 1: Your Personal Information
This initial portion is fairly simple and requires the following elements:
- Your name
- Your parents’ names
- Your birthday (using mm/dd/yyyy format)
- Your gender
- Your alien registration number, or “A-number;” this is assigned to you when you begin the immigration process
- Your USCIS online account number; if you do not already have this, you can obtain one by creating an account on the USCIS website
- In Care Of name; if you do not receive your own mail, specify the name of whoever does
Part 2: Your Household Information
For this portion, you will need to provide information about each member of your household. This will include their names, birthdays, their current immigration status, their A-numbers (if they have one), and if they are applying for immigration benefits themselves.
You will need to include the following individuals in your household assessment:
- Your spouse if they live with you
- Your unmarried children under the age of 21 if they live with you and you financially support them
- Any other individual who you list as a financial dependent on your tax returns and provide significant financial support
- Any individual who lists you as a financial dependent and provides you significant financial support
Part 3: You and Your Household’s Financial Situation
This is arguably the most critical and exhaustive component of Form I-944. You will need to catalogue and report you and your household’s assets, resources, and overall financial status. USCIS officers will use this information to determine if you are likely to become a public charge.
The goal of this section is to prove your household’s collective income meets or exceeds at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for where you live and your household size. These qualifying thresholds are adjusted annually, so be sure to check the current requirements before filling out Form I-944. Also note that individuals actively serving in the military need only prove their household’s income meets or exceeds 100% of the relevant Federal Poverty Guideline quota.
In order to prove you meet the minimum financial requirements to USCIS, you will need to include the following elements:
- Information from your federal tax return. Specifically, you will need your gross annual income. If you have not filed a current federal tax return, you will be expected to explain why. You may be able to use information from a prior federal tax return or a foreign tax return. If you have not filed a federal tax return in 3 years, you can alternatively use the income figure from a W-2 earnings statement or Social Security Statement.
- Specifications on whether any of your gross income came from crimes or public benefit programs. Any income earmarked with these conditions will be deducted in the determination of whether you are likely to become a public charge.
- Proof of any additional income not reflected on your tax return. This can include child support payments if you are an adult or parental financial support if you are a minor child. You must produce physical evidence supporting the existence of the income.
- Inventory of all liquidable assets. This refers to anything you could convert into spendable cash within 12 months. This can include bank or retirement accounts, personal investments, your house or real estate (minus any outstanding mortgages or loans), and additional vehicles. If the assets are located abroad, their value must be computed in U.S. dollar amounts. Physical evidence, such as deeds or bank statements, will also need to be provided.
- Inventory of debts and liabilities. If you owe money to individuals or institutions, you will need to report it. This includes credit card debt, medical bills, tax debt, mortgages, leases, or any other type of loan. Physical evidence supporting the amounts you specify will be required. Generally, the less debt, the better.
- Details about your credit history. A credit score reflects your credit report, which evaluates your debt load and how reliably you repay obligations. There are three major credit agencies in the United States, and for Form I-944, you will ideally need to provide a positive credit score and report from at least one of them. You can obtain a free credit report from each of the agencies once each year. If you have not amassed enough information to generate a credit report, which can happen if you are new in the country or do not use credit cards, you can instead submit a report of bills paid on-time. You are also permitted to provide a written explanation for any anomalies or weaknesses in your credit history.
- Information about any bankruptcies. If you have ever declared bankruptcy, you will have to specify what type, where it was filed, and how it was resolved.
- Details about your health insurance. You will need to include documentation that specifies the start and end dates of your coverage, your premium amount, and whether your plan was subsidized (including any assistance provided by the Affordable Care Act). If you do not presently have health insurance, you will have to either demonstrate you are an enrolled in a plan that will take effect at a future date or provide an explanation for how you will pay for healthcare costs. This information will be looked at closely with the results of the medical exam you undergo as part of the green card application process.
- Breakdown of any use of United States public benefits. The programs that need to be reported include Social Security Income, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Medicaid, food stamps, public housing, state or local general assistance, institutionalization or long-term care, Section 8 project-based rental assistance, and the Section 8 Housing Choice Volunteer Program. If you have benefitted from any of these programs for more than 12 months in total in the past, or may need to receive relief from them for more than 12 months in total in the next 36 months, you will automatically be rejected on the grounds of becoming a public charge. There are some exemptions available for active military, those experiencing medical emergencies, minors under 21 years of age, pregnant women, and new mothers; evidence of your exemptions will have to be provided.
- Acknowledgement of any past USCIS fee waivers. The agency will sometimes grant waivers on application filing fees in situations where the applicant is experiencing financial hardship. If you have previously benefitted from a waiver, you will have to explain how your financial situation has since improved.
Part 4: Your Education History
You do not have to fully complete this part of the form if you are applying for an employment-based green card. Instead, simply include your receipt number for Form I-140.
If you are applying for any other type of green card, you will have to complete this section in full. USCIS wants to be confident that you are bringing employable skills into the United States. If you lack education or marketable skills, you may be more likely to require unemployment benefits and other types of government support. Consequently, you will need to list all relevant education, including physical evidence (such as copies of diplomas) to support your claims.
Educational items you should report in this section include:
- List of high schools, colleges, and universities you attended
- Any vocational or occupational licenses or certificates you have earned
- Evidence supporting your language skills, including English and any other languages in which you have a professional working proficiency
- Statement on whether you are retired
- Statement acknowledging if you are the primary caregiver to one or more individuals in your household
Generally, the more educational and skills you have, the better. Leniency is typically given toward those who serve as primary caregivers as well as younger students.
Part 5: Your Signature
This one is simple but important! You may not type your signature once the rest of the information on Form I-944 is completed. You must physically sign the document in this section.
Parts 6 and 7: Acknowledging Translators and Other Assistance
If you completed Form I-944 with the help of a translator, they will need to fill out this portion of the form acknowledging their role in its completion. Similarly, if you had any other assistance, including legal assistance, they will also need to input some basic information in this section. The applicant themselves will not have to worry about completing these sections.
Part 8: Your Second Signature
You will have to sign Form I-944 again in the presence of a USCIS officer during your green card interview. Do not sign this portion of the form before submitting it! The USCIS officer conducting your interview will let you know when it is time to sign.
Part 9: Additional or Miscellaneous Information
If there is any relevant information that did not make it into any of the preceding areas of Form I-944, this is where to include it. Your legal representation can advise you on what additional documentation, if any, should be included here.
Submitting Form I-944 and Next Steps
Once you are confident in the accuracy of Form I-944’s contents, you will submit it in conjunction with your green card application (Form I-485). Then, the Adjustment of Status process proceeds as it did before the new Trump administration rules. There is also presently no additional filing fee for Form I-944.
USCIS officials will review your application, including your Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. They will check to make sure you meet all eligibility requirements and weigh whether you may become a public charge based on the information you provided. As in other green card processes, USCIS may request additional documentation or clarifications.
If USCIS is satisfied with your application, you will likely have to answer questions about the contents of Form I-944 during your in-person interview. You will also have to sign the form again when instructed to do so by the USCIS officer.
The Declaration of Self-Sufficiency is still too new to know if the additional elements will dramatically delay the green card application process. Before Form I-944 was introduced, an Adjustment of Status process took approximately 10-13 months from the date of application submittal to receiving the green card, assuming everything goes smoothly.
We Can Help You with Form I-944
Attorney Ian Weldon has spent over 18 years helping Florida clients navigate the often-complex United States immigration system. Our team at Weldon Law Group, PLLC understands how frustrating these new changes to the green card application process are, and we strive to make completing Form I-944 as painless as possible.
If you are confused on how to complete the Declaration of Self-Sufficiency, we want to help. Call (904) 712-2556 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.