What is the Affidavit of Support?
The Affidavit of Support, in the plain terms, is simply a contract between the Sponsor-usually the Petitioner, or the person filing-and the government of the United States. It refers to obligations that the signer will be bound to in the event that the person who is being sponsored relies on or takes financial support from the government. The form, the I-864, is normally required in order to process most family based applications and also some employment based cases as well. By signing the application, the sponsor is financially vouching for the immigrant and is basically saying that he/she is willing to maintain or support the intending immigrant at 125% of the federal poverty guideline level, as well reimburse the government if the intending immigrant receives certain Federal, State, or local means-tested public benefits. The sponsor's ability to do is usually evidenced by his/her income tax returns and proof of current employment.
So what are the current poverty guidelines?
The federal poverty guidelines levels are usually revised or updated every year. For 2014, the guidelines are:
Household Size Income
2 $19, 662
3 $24, 737
4 $29, 812
5 $34, 887
6 $39, 962
7 $45, 037
8 $50, 112
Add $5, 075 for each additional person.
The calculations can be deceptively simple because the question is, what is properly considered the household size? As can be seen, even the addition of one person to the household size could potentially make a significant difference. Some people who you wouldn't ordinarily think would be included as part of your household must be included, while others that may be technically living in the household may not necessarily have to be. This is where the assistance of a superior lawyer who is familiar with the rules can be helpful.
You must notify immigration of any address changes.
Just as lawful permanent residents must always keep the Department of Homeland Security up to date on their latest address, so do Sponsors who sign the I-864. Any change of address must be reported on Form I-865 within thirty days. There is a civil penalty that may be imposed for failure to do so. Out of the many obligations, this is one that is often neglected by the US citizen sponsor since it is commonly misunderstood that only the immigrant has to keep immigration informed as to his/her whereabouts. Obviously, if the immigrant takes some sort of means-tested benefit from the government, the government would want to know where the sponsor of the affidavit is in order to contact that person for reimbursement.
What if I divorce the sponsored immigrant?
Many people are very surprised to learn-and some, the hard way-that divorce or legal separation does not terminate or end one's obligations under the Affidavit of Support. The instructions are very explicit on this point and there is caselaw supporting this doctrine. So, in other words, if you sponsor your spouse for permanent residence but later divorce him/her, you are still responsible to maintain the sponsored immigrant at 125% of the federal poverty guideline level, as well as liable to the government for reimbursement if public benefits are taken by your ex-spouse. Your obligations under the I-864 only end after the sponsored immigrant becomes a US Citizen, or can be credited with 40 qualifying quarters of work in the US (which comes out to roughly 10 years). The contract would also terminate should the sponsored immigrant die or cease to be a lawful permanent resident and leave the US.
Of course, these are only some general rules regarding the Affidavit of Support. Detailed instructions and information can be found in the actual instructions or by consulting with an experienced immigration attorney. Given the important obligations one is taking on by signing this document, it would certainly be in any potential sponsor's best interests to learn about it prior to signing it, as it is a legal enforceable contract, not merely a form.