For many years, an intending immigrant has been required to prove that he or she will not be a "public charge" upon arrival to the United States. In other words, the immigrant will not become dependent on public benefits and become a burden to society due to inability to work or be supported by family. In the past, this was showing was a routine matter, accomplished by the petitioner or a third-party sponsor signing an "Affidavit of Support" and showing a certain threshold amount of income. In all but unusual circumstances, the signing of this Affidavit of Support and accompanying proof of income was sufficient to satisfy this requirement.
Now, however, the Affidavit of Support is to become just one element under examination in a broader inquiry. Officers are instructed to consider the applicant's work history, age, health, and education, as well as to question the relationship between the sponsor and the applicant with the aim of judging whether the sponsor is really likely to comply with these obligations or is just signing the paper as a gesture. This latter part is particularly absurd since the document is a legally binding contract and signed under penalty of perjury, not to mention that an officer at a consulate abroad is no way to equipped to judge whether a sponsor will or will not take the obligations seriously.
The result, however, is that cases must now be approached with much more caution, especially where an elderly parent who is beyond working age is the party immigrating. The sponsoring family member must be prepared to show exactly how they will handle health coverage for an immigrant who will not be working. If the immigrant will be working, it may be necessary to convince the officer through evidence of recent employment, job skills, licensing, and education. Any deficiencies in these regards will require an explanation. Sponsors who are not family members should be prepared to explain the basis of their attachment to the immigrant and document well their ongoing, present income.
The policy is still too new to say how rigorously it is being applied and with what effects. It is especially troublesome for anyone who is already in the United States but will be travelling abroad after winning an unlawful presence waiver (I-601A) based on hardship to the U.S. spouse. After all, if the spouse is suffering hardships, this may create doubt in the officer as to how the immigrant will be supported.
This new policy does not -- at this time -- apply to interviews occurring in the United States (the Adjustment of Status process).