This year has seen significant changes to the green card process. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic delayed and practically halted many cases, but also the new public charge rule went into affect causing a great deal of confusion.
It should be noted that the overall process of applying for a green card in the United States is still the same. USCIS is still open and operating, only more slowly and with some added precautions. Most people should not delay in filing applications if they are eligible. It’s always a good idea to schedule a free consultation in order to discuss a particular case.
Here’s a summary of key changes to the green card process in 2020:
- The public charge rule has gone into effect and is applying retroactively to cases postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.
- COVID-19 shutdowns have caused severe delays for cases, particularly those received in February and March of 2020. Delays have been uneven.
- USCIS implemented COVID-19 accommodations for certain deadlines and types of situations.
- Travel bans have completely halted certain types of green card immigration to the US, particularly for parents of US Citizens and family of lawful permanent residents.
- Fee increases proposed by USCIS were enjoined before going into effect, but will likely still be implemented at some future date.
Green card public charge rule in 2020
One of the most significant changes in 2020 was the implementation of the new public charge rule. USCIS wanted to start enforcing this rule in 2019, but was stopped by courts. The final rule went into effect starting February 24, 2020. Cases filed before that date should not be impacted by the rule. However, USCIS is retroactively applying the rule to cases filed since that date, even if a case was filed during a period when it was not required, like during the recent court injunction.
The public charge rule is a significant burden on applicants and just another barrier to people getting green cards. It requires applicants to demonstrate that they will not become a public charge of the US Government, meaning that they will not be dependent on the government. Applicants must submit form I-944, declaration of self sufficiency, and provide a lot of documentation mentioned in the form instructions. USCIS will determine if someone meets the new test by looking at whether the applicant has serious medical conditions, health insurance, a decent income if authorized to work, assets, significant debts, as well as their level of education.
USCIS COVID-19 accommodations
USCIS is providing some accommodations that are important for green card applicants as well as other case types. One key accommodation has been flexibility in responding to requests for evidence and other requests. It has been impossible to get many types of documents during the pandemic, and this allows 60 days beyond the date in most types of requests for applicants to respond. It also applies to some kinds of appeals and motions.
USCIS is also providing some flexibility with changes of status and extensions of status due to the pandemic. Additionally, applicants who have to reschedule due to illness or travel outside the US should not be penalized for their rescheduling requests, although in some cases USCIS has been issuing denials in error.
USCIS immigration fee changes in 2020
USCIS attempted to increase immigration fees for many common types of applications such as work permits, citizenship, and waivers. Currently, the fee rule has not gone into effect because it was stopped by multiple courts. That doesn’t mean that it won’t become effective in the future, however. Now is a good time to file those applications, like citizenship, before fees increase significantly. Some applicants will also lose their ability to get a fee waiver once that rule becomes effective, unless USCIS changes its policy.
Schedule a free consultation today to review how these changes impact your case.