The I-864 form, also known as the Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA, can get you confused in 864 different ways (figuratively). What exactly is the affidavit of support? What is the liability of a sponsor under the I-864?  Allow Elkhalil Law, P.C. to silence your confusions in the following discussion:

What exactly is the affidavit of support?

The affidavit of support is documentation that every potential immigrant must file to the United States government that shows he or she will not be a “burden on the state”. Not being a “burden on the state” means that the individual will not seek or use public benefits. The official name of this document is the I-864 and it ensures that the new immigrants will be taken care of, financially speaking, if need be, by the Petitioner. However, the I-864 goes beyond just being a document. In fact, the affidavit of support is a legally binding contract between a financial sponsor, normally the petitioner[i], and the United States government in which, if the need arises, the sponsor accepts financial responsibility for the potential immigrant in question.

Who is the sponsor?

If you filed an immigrant visa petition for your relative, you must be the sponsor. You must also be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. You must have a residence in the United States or a territory or possession of the United States. Usually, this requirement means you must actually live in the United States, or a territory or possession, in order to be a sponsor. If you live abroad, you may still be eligible to be a sponsor if you can show that your residence abroad is temporary, and that you still have a residence in the United States. Why do all of these requirements exist? Essentially, the United States government is ensuring that your relative can be financially provided for and fulfill residency requirements within the United States that are needed for attaining immigrant status. If your relative cannot secure a place to stay or generate sufficient income in the United States on his/her/their own, the expectation is that you, the sponsor, will provide the necessary funds and home to uphold residency.

How much income should the sponsor make to be a qualified sponsor?

The sponsor must make 125% of the poverty guideline level based on the household size. For instance, if the poverty guideline dictates that the income of a family of four is $25,100 then the sponsor must make at least $31,375.    This is to ensure that the sponsor can financially manage the addition of the incoming immigrant relative to their household expenses, without jeopardizing the well-being of those already living in the household or the new immigrant.

What if the sponsor can’t meet the minimum income requirements?

That is where the concept of a joint sponsor comes in. A joint sponsor is someone who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting your family member(s) with you. A joint sponsor must meet all the same requirements as you, except that the joint sponsor does not need to be related to the immigrant. The joint sponsor (or the joint sponsor and his or her household) must reach the 125% income requirement alone. You cannot combine your income with that of a joint sponsor to meet the income requirement.

How long is a sponsor legally obligated to support someone under the I-864?

The responsibility lasts until the first occurrence of one of these five events: the beneficiary

  1. Becomes a U.S. citizen;
  2. Can be credited with 40 quarters (ten years) of work;
  3. Is no longer a permanent resident and has departed the U.S.;
  4. After being ordered removed seeks permanent residency based on a different I-864; or
  5. Dies

Responsibility and Liability

The I-864 obligates the sponsor, and or the joint sponsor, not only to support the intending immigrant but also makes the sponsor responsible and liable to the US government for reimbursement of any “means-tested benefits” received by the immigrant. According to the Department of State, the following are considered federal means tested benefits:

  • Food stamps
  • Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
  • Medicaid
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”)
  • State Child Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”)

If the immigrant were to receive any of the above benefits, the government may go after the sponsor for reimbursement.

On the other hand, the government does not consider the following as means-tested benefits that obligate a sponsor or joint sponsor to repay under the I-864:

  • Emergency Medicaid
  • School lunches
  • Immunizations and treatment for communicable diseases
  • Student assistance to attend colleges and institutions of higher learning
  • Some kinds of foster care or adoption assistance
  • Job training programs
  • Head start
  • Short-term, non-cash emergency relief

Remember, the I-864 is a legally binding contract with the federal government. It provides that the sponsor will be held personally liable if he or she fails to maintain support and may be sued by either the beneficiary or by a government agency that provided means-tested public benefits.

So, all in all, should I become a sponsor under the I-864?

Most sponsors are motivated by helping bring their immigrant relatives or loved-ones to the United States, so they maintain that sponsoring them is both worthwhile and something that they want to do. However, it is imperative that you realize the gravity of such a legally-enforceable agreement; you will be responsible for the finances and/or means-tested benefits that the individual you are sponsoring accrues. Failure to provide this support may earn you a trip to court.

Utilize this article as a foundation for your decision but be sure to do further research in case your immigrant relative or friend has specific circumstances or conditions that require financial maintenance. Visit https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/affidavit-support for more information. Moreover, electing to consult an immigration is a good option to pursue. Elkhalil Law, P.C. is equipped with highly experienced lawyers who have the ability to provide you with the information needed depending on your case and circumstances. Feel free to call 770-612-3499 to schedule a consultation.

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[1] This Article is co-authored by Sawsan Selim.

[1] Sometimes the petitioner does not make enough money or have enough asset to sponsor the new immigrant. In this case, a joint sponsor is required. If a joint sponsor is required, the same responsibility that applies to the petitioner applies also to the joint sponsor.

Disclaimer: Nothing in relation to the enclosed information should be construed and or considered as legal advice for any individual, entity, case, or situation. The following information is prepared for advertisement use only. The information is intended ONLY to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice on your specific situation, we encourage you to consult an attorney experienced in the area of Immigration Law.