Immigration Status

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated March 2015

Where should I go if I am not sure of my immigration status?

If you are not sure what your immigration status is or if you are having trouble getting documents to prove your immigration status, you should contact an immigration attorney or an organization that is very familiar with immigration laws, issues, policies, and procedures.11 If you are unsure of your immigration status, speak with an immigration attorney before contacting the immigration authorities.

For assistance, you can contact the International Institute of New England, which has a weekly Immigration Legal Clinic and provides legal consultation. For more information about the International Institute, call 617-695-9990, or see the Directory at the end of this chapter. 

Does a housing authority or a subsidized landlord check my immigration status?

If you apply for housing programs listed in What housing programs take applications from immigrants?, then the housing authority or landlord should not check your immigration status.

If you apply for the federal housing programs in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants?, the housing authority or subsidized landlord will need to check the immigration status of all members of your household who plan to live in the apartment.12

What if I know that I do not have eligible status, or I do not want my immigration status checked?

You should apply only for a state housing program. See What housing programs take applications from immigrants?. If you apply for a federal housing program, the federal housing authority or subsidized landlord will probably insist that you sign a form, sometimes called a Section 214 Declaration, for each household member claiming that he or she is either a citizen or an eligible noncitizen .13 See a sample Declaration of Section 214 Status. If you know that someone in your household does not have eligible status, you should NOT complete this form. By signing this form, you are claiming to have a certain status, and you are agreeing that immigration authorities can check on your status.

Instead of completing the Section 214 Declaration, you can provide a written statement that one or more household members are not claiming to have eligible status. Sometimes housing authorities or subsidized landlords may use a form which allows you to indicate that you are either claiming citizenship status, eligible noncitizen status, or are not contending to have eligible status. This is sometimes known as a Non-Contending Form .14 See the sample Non-Contending Form.15 Once a Non-Contending Form is completed, the housing authority or subsidized landlord should not check on the immigration status of that person. Be warned, however, that if there is one or more ineligible household member, your rent will be pro-rated . See What is pro-rated assistance or pro-rated rent? and If some, but not all, household members are eligible due to immigration status, should I still apply?.

What verifications can the housing authority or subsidized landlord require?

If you claim to be a citizen , the housing authority or subsidized landlord may request that you provide some proof of citizenship. This is not a federal requirement, but the law allows it.16

If you are 62 years of age or older and an eligible noncitizen (see Who may apply to housing programs that limit applications?), all that you are required to provide is proof of your age and a sworn statement of eligible immigration status. You do not need to provide any other documents proving your immigration status.17

For all other eligible noncitizens in the household, you must provide documents from one of the immigration authorities to prove eligible immigration status, as well as a form consenting to verification of your information by the immigration authorities. See List of acceptable documents you can use to prove immigration status.18

The housing authority or subsidized landlord should give you a notice telling you when to provide any requested documents. If you need more time, you can request an extension of up to 30 more days.19

What happens once I have given the housing authority or subsidized landlord the papers they request?

Once you have submitted the immigration documents requested by the housing authority or subsidized landlord, they will then contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an immigration authority to conduct a computer check to verify eligible noncitizen status for any household members claiming that status.20 DHS may verify that you are eligible, may determine that you are not eligible, or may require the housing authority or subsidized landlord to ask you to provide additional documents.21 DHS may take some time to respond. In the meantime, the housing authority or subsidized owner should continue to process your application. As long as you have submitted the documents requested, your application should not be delayed or denied simply because it takes awhile to complete this process. If you have claimed that all household members are citizens or eligible noncitizens, you should get full housing assistance until there has been a final verification of your eligibility.22

If the housing authority or subsidized landlord ultimately decides that one or more household members are not eligible noncitizens based on information they receive from DHS, they must give you written notice of this. The notice must advise you of various rights that you have, including appeal rights and the right to pro-rated assistance if one or more household members are eligible.23

Is there any appeal process?

If you think that you are, or a household member is, an eligible noncitizen and the housing authority or subsidized landlord wrongly decided that you were not, you have the right to appeal this decision at the housing agency. You also have the right to appeal if you think the housing authority or subsidized landlord miscalculated what the pro-rated rent should be.

Any appeal must be requested within 30 days of the notice from the housing authority or subsidized landlord. 24 During this appeal, there should be no action by the housing authority and your application should not be delayed or denied.25 For more information about an appeal to the housing authority, see Challenging a Denial of Housing.

You can also appeal directly to your local office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency that maintains records on immigration status. USCIS can correct and update your record. For USCIS Customer Service, go to their website.

Important

Speak with an immigration attorney or organization familiar with immigration issues before visiting any USCIS office to ensure you avoid any possible immigration consequences. 
See Immigration Specialists

Endnotes

11 The primary immigration authority used to be called INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It has been reorganized, has many functions, and is now the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. Many deportation cases, however, are heard through another authority or agency, the Department of Justice.

12 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.508-5.514.

13 See 42 U.S.C. § 1436a; 24 C.F.R. Part 5, Subpart E.

14 24 C.F.R. § 5.508(e).

15 In multifamily housing, the standard form requires the applicant to fill out the declaration, where, at the bottom, there is a space to state that the applicant does not assert any immigration status. See HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 3, Exhibit 3-5.

16 24 C.F.R. § 5.508(b)(1).

17 24 C.F.R. § 5.508(b)(2).

18 This list is taken from HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 3, Figure 3-4. See also HUD Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook, Chapter 7, § 7-3.

19 24 C.F.R. § 5.508(f-h).

20 24 C.F.R. § 5.512(c)(1). There is an extensive discussion about how the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program works in Appendix 2 of the HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009). This includes a list of codes that are used to indicate different immigration statuses on the SAVE report.

21 24 C.F.R. § 5.512(c)(2), (d).

22 24 C.F.R. § 5.514(b)(1).

23 24 C.F.R. § 5.514(d). A sample notice from a subsidized owner is found in HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 3, Exhibit 3-8, and Chapter 4.

24 24 C.F.R. § 5.514(d)(4) and (5). For a discussion of the hearing process, see 24 C.F.R. § 5.514(f). A pro-ration decision which you think is inaccurate is a denial of full housing assistance.

25 24 C.F.R. § 5.512(c) and (d).

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