What is the Affidavit of Support?
An important step in the family-based immigration process (and some employment-based cases) is demonstrating that the intending immigrant will not become a “public charge.” This is established through a legally binding contract called the Affidavit of Support (USCIS Form I-864) that lasts until the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. Citizen or is credited with roughly forty work quarters (which translates to approximately ten years).
The Affidavit of Support must be signed and executed by the Petitioner, who must be at least 18 years old, hold US Citizenship or lawful permanent residence, and maintain a US residence. The Petitioner must show that he/she has enough income (and/or assets) to “maintain the intending immigrant(s) and the rest of [petitioner’s] household at 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.” This is usually done through the submission of financial evidence in the form of tax returns, W-2s, and a current job letter. The applicable poverty guideline level is determined by the sponsor’s household size. If the sponsor fails to meet the minimum income requirement, he or she may choose to supplement his/her income with that of a household member via Form I-864A or a joint sponsor through another I-864.
Any sponsor must realize that the Affidavit of Support is a serious commitment. In the event that the immigrant applies for and receives a designated means-tested benefit, the petitioner can be held legally responsible to reimburse the agency that provided the benefit. There is even a court decision out there that holds that this obligation survives divorce.
Additionally, since there have been countless instances of a petition being questioned or outright denied by immigration due to a sponsor’s inability to meet the relevant financial requirements, careful attention must be paid to the Affidavit of Support instructions to determine which documents can pass muster. Furthermore, because the poverty guideline level is determined by a sponsor’s “household size,” the actual number of people in the household must be accurately determined. While this may sound simple in theory, it can and sometimes does get complicated, especially when one must consider the sponsor’s dependents as well as any current lawful permanent residents who were beneficiaries of a sponsor’s previous Affidavit of Supports.