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We would like to provide our readers with a quick update regarding the temporary suspension of in-person services at USCIS field offices nationwide.

As first reported, USCIS made the decision to close all offices and application support centers (ASCs) to the public beginning March 18th. USCIS planned to reopen offices on April 7th however today the agency announced that offices will continue to remain closed to the public until May 3rd.

As previously stated on our blog, all applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments who are impacted by this closure will receive notices in the mail with further information.

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In the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, USCIS reminds applicants and petitioners impacted by the pandemic that they can seek certain types of discretionary relief on a case-by-case basis.

Relief for Individuals Seeking Extensions/Change of Status

Special relief is available to individuals who were unable to file an extension or change of status petition before the end of their authorized stay expired, if a special situation prevented the individual’s departure and/or filing.

According to USCIS, “when applying for an extension or change of status due to a special situation that prevented your planned and timely departure,” the agency “may take into consideration how the special situation prevented your departure.”

In addition, if an applicant was not able to apply for an extension or change of status before their authorized period of admission expired, USCIS in their discretion may excuse the delay if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant’s control. An applicant in such a situation should be prepared to provide documentary evidence of those extraordinary circumstances. Depending on the applicant’s situation, the types of evidence that can be provided will vary.

Relief for F-1 Students Based on Severe Economic Hardship Caused by Unforeseen Circumstances

F-1 students who are experiencing severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control (such as those impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic) may request employment authorization to work off-campus (if they meet certain regulatory requirements) by filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization along with Form I-20, and supporting materials. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9).

The student’s Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by your Designated School Official, certifying your eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.

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Applying for adjustment of status just became a lot more difficult.

After announcing the nationwide implementation of the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” on February 24, 2020, USCIS unveiled a brand-new form (Form I-944) that must be filed with all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

What is Form I-944?

This new Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency, will be used by USCIS to determine whether an applicant is likely to become a public charge at any time in the future based on several factors including receipt of public benefits, as well as the applicant’s age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills, prospective immigration status and period of stay, and the petitioner’s Form I-864 Affidavit of Support.

In general, a person is inadmissible based on public charge grounds if he or she is more likely than not at any time in the future to receive one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.

Who is Exempt from Filing this Form?

Certain special classes of immigrants are not required to file the new Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency with an adjustment of status application such as: VAWA self-petitioners, special immigrant juveniles, certain Afghani or Iraqi nationals, asylees, refugees, victims of qualifying criminal activity (U Nonimmigrants), victims of human trafficking (T nonimmigrants), applicants applying under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Haitian Refugee Fairness Act, certain Parolees, Nicaraguans and other Central Americans of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), and other special classes of immigrants.

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In this post, we would like to provide our readers with an important update released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with respect to the public charge rule.

Given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of the government, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that they will begin implementing the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule on February 24, 2020, EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined for the time being by a federal court.

That means that EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, USCIS will begin to apply the Final Rule to applications and petitions postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after February 24, 2020.

The postmark date for all applications and petitions sent by commercial courier (UPS/FedEx/DHL) is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

The public charge rule will NOT apply to applications or petitions postmarked before February 24, 2020 and petitions that remain pending with USCIS.

Prepare for Changes: USCIS to update all Adjustment of Status Forms

USCIS has announced that the agency will be updating all forms associated with the filing of adjustment of status, its policy manual, and will be providing updated submission instructions on its website this week to give applicants and their legal representatives enough time to review filing procedures and changes that will apply to all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Failure to submit forms with the correct edition dates and/or abide by the new filing procedures will result in the rejection of an application or petition.

The Final Rule provides that adjustment of status applicants subject to the public charge grounds of inadmissibility will be required to file Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency along with Form I-485, as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination to demonstrate they are not likely to become a public charge. Therefore, we expect USCIS to provide instructions regarding the submission of Form I-944 with adjustment of status applications.

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We kick off a brand-new week with breaking news handed down by the United States Supreme Court.

Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration may enforce  the controversial rule entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which expands the scope of public benefits that will render a permanent resident or immigrant visa applicant ineligible for immigration benefits. The public charge rule makes certain individuals inadmissible to receive permanent residence on public charge grounds based on their use of certain government assistance programs.

As we reported, on January 13, 2020 the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to lift a remaining lower court injunction preventing the government from enforcing the public charge rule. Today, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overpowered the four liberal justices on the court, in favor of the Trump administration, ruling that the government may now begin to enforce the public charge rule despite challenges to the rule pending in the lower courts.

Overview: 

Under current immigration law, an individual who, in the opinion of DHS is likely at any time to become a public charge is (1) ineligible for a visa (2) ineligible for admission to the United States and (3) ineligible for adjustment of status (permanent residence).

In determining whether an applicant is or will likely become a public charge USCIS has always considered the receipt of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid, benefits that make an applicant ineligible for permanent residence.

The public charge rule goes further and expands the list of benefits that make a foreign national ineligible to obtain permanent residence or an immigrant visa (in addition to the benefits listed above). These additional benefits include:

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Welcome back to our blog! We kick off the week by bringing you recent developments regarding the government’s controversial rule entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which sought to expand the scope of public benefits that could render a permanent resident or immigrant visa applicant ineligible for immigration benefits.

As you know, in October of 2019, the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” was swiftly blocked by several federal judges shortly before going into effect. By court order, the government cannot implement the final rule anywhere in the United States until a final resolution has been reached in several lawsuits brought against the government challenging the validity of the public charge rule.

On Monday, January 13, 2020, the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the court to lift the remaining lower court injunction, that is currently stopping the government from enforcing the public charge rule.

The government’s request comes just one week after a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, upheld a lower court injunction, preventing the government from implementing the public charge rule on a nationwide basis.

Angered by the decision, the government decided to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision by bringing the matter to the Supreme Court, urging the Court to side with the President and allow the implementation of the rule while a decision in the New York lawsuit is reached on the merits.

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In the latest blow to President Trump’s embattled Presidency, on November 2nd federal judge Michael Simon issued a preliminary injunction blocking the government from enforcing the President’s Proclamation issued on October 4, 2019, suspending the entry of any immigrant who will “financially burden the United States healthcare system.”

Judge Simon’s decision came just one day before the government’s planned implementation of the Presidential Proclamation.

The judge’s order applies nationwide and prohibits the government from implementing any part of the Proclamation requiring individuals seeking an immigrant visa to provide evidence “to a consular officer’s satisfaction” that they would either be covered by an approved health insurance within 30 days of entry to the United States, or possess the financial resources to pay for reasonably foreseeable medical costs.

Judge Simon’s decision came in response to a class action lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in the District of Oregon by seven United States Citizens and a non-profit organization against the Trump administration, challenging the legality of the Presidential Proclamation.

Plaintiff’s argued that the Proclamation should be found unlawful because it does not advance the President’s goal of reducing the burden of uncompensated care for uninsured individuals. Plaintiff’s called into question the President’s true intentions in issuing the Proclamation, stating that the Proclamation “is but the latest link in a long chain of statements and actions by this President and his Administration expressing antipathy toward all noncitizens. . .particularly immigrants of color, from Central and Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.”

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As previously reported, the government has issued a new final rule in the Federal Register entitled “Visas: Ineligibility Based on Public Charge Grounds,” giving consular officials wide discretion to deny immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications on public charge grounds.

In line with this new rule, today October 24, 2019, the Department of State issued a 60-day notice in the Federal Register alerting consular applicants of the agency’s plan to require immigrant visa applicants to complete Form DS-5540, a Public Charge Questionnaire to determine whether the applicant is likely to become a public charge. Public comments will be accepted up to December 23, 2019. Comments may be submitted by going to www.Regulations.gov and entering ‘‘Docket Number: DOS–2019–0037’’ in the Search field.

Why is Form DS-5540 being proposed?

According to the 60-day Notice:

The Department seeks to better ensure that aliens subject to the public charge inadmissibility ground are self-sufficient and will not rely on public resources to meet their needs, but rather, will rely on their own capabilities, as well as the resources of sponsors.

Through the DS–5540, the Department will collect information in a standardized format regarding applicants’ ability to financially support themselves following entry into the United States, without depending on government assistance.

Fields primarily pertain to the applicant’s health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, skills, health insurance coverage, and tax history. The DS–5540 would also require applicants to provide information on whether they have received certain specified public benefits from a U.S. Federal, state, local or tribal government entity on or after October 15, 2019.

Consular officers will use the completed forms in assessing whether an applicant is likely to become a public charge and is thus ineligible for a visa under section 212(a)(4)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (‘‘INA’’).

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On Friday October 11, 2019, three Federal courts in California, New York, and Washington issued three temporary injunctions blocking the Trump administration from enforcing the Public Charge rule on a nationwide basis, which was set to go into effect on October 15, 2019.

The decision to block the government from enforcing the Public Charge rule is sure to set off a contentious legal battle that is just beginning to unfold.

California’s Injunction

In California, the City of San Francisco, State of California, and La Clinica de La Raza, a health care provider, joined together as plaintiffs to sue the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the President of the United States to prevent the Public Charge rule from going forward.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted the Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction bringing a temporary stop to the government’s plans to enforce the rule, in states falling under the purview of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Hamilton wrote that in seeking to enforce the final rule, the government failed to consider the impact the rule would have on local and state governments when immigrants chose to leave public health benefit program, “[DHS] made no attempt, whatsoever, to investigate the type or magnitude of harm that would flow from the reality which it admittedly recognized would result—fewer people would be vaccinated,”

Washington’s Injunction

Similarly in a separate but related lawsuit, the States of Washington, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island joined together as Plaintiffs to sue the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the heads of these agencies, and the President of the United States.

The Washington injunction was more sweeping in scope in that the Federal Judge in that case, Rosanna Malouf Peterson, ordered a nationwide injunction forcing the government to refrain from implementing or enforcing the rule on a temporary but nationwide basis. In her decision Judge Peterson wrote, “the Court declines to limit the injunction to apply only in those states within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”

As a result, the broad scope of the injunction prevents the government from enforcing the Public Charge rule on a nationwide basis.

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The Trump administration’s controversial rule making certain foreign nationals inadmissible to receive permanent residence on public charge grounds, will become effective beginning October 15, 2019.

First, and foremost let’s recap what this rule is about and who it will apply to:

Under immigration law, an individual who, in the opinion of DHS is likely at any time to become a public charge is (1) ineligible for a visa (2) ineligible for admission to the United States and (3) ineligible for adjustment of status (permanent residence).

This means that the rule applies to foreign nationals applying for a U.S. visa, foreign nationals seeking admission through a port of entry, and individuals applying for adjustment of status.

When an individual applies for any immigration benefit with the government, (whether a U.S. visa or green card application), the official adjudicating the petition must determine whether that individual is or will likely become a public charge. This determination is referred to as a “public charge determination.”

What makes someone a public charge in the eyes of immigration?

A person is a “public charge” if they are primarily dependent on the Government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at Government expense.

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