One of the more pressing concerns that a potential sponsor will have regarding signing an affidavit of support on behalf of a prospective immigrant is whether the affidavit of support covers medical and hospital bills, which we all recognize in this day and age, can be just astronomical. The issue comes down to this: the I-864 obligates the sponsor not only to support the intending immigrant at 125% of the poverty guideline level but also makes the sponsor responsible and liable to the US government for reimbursement of any "means-tested benefits" received by the immigrant. The nightmare question is what would happen if the immigrant were to run up medical bills that he/she couldn't pay? Would the sponsor have to pay? Unfortunately, the government does not explicitly answer this question but it does provide some guidance.
Means Tested Public Benefits
According to the Department of State, the following are considered federal means tested benefits:
· Food stamps
· Supplemental Security Income ("SSI")
· 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
From the language, it does not appear that a sponsor would be responsible for just any medical bills. However, Medicaid is something that is specifically triggers liability. (On the other hand, emergency Medicaid will not.) But, in order for an immigrant to accept Medicaid benefits, he or she must, of course, qualify to receive them in the first place.
Clearly, the affidavit of support is a very important legal contract that needs to be read carefully before signing. In fact, a potential sponsor--especially a joint sponsor-- may want to consult an attorney prior to executing the document since it may not be in his/her best interests to sponsor a person. While the instructions clearly lay out what are federal means-tested benefits, individual states may offer benefits that it considers "means-tested," so it may be worthwhile to also explore which programs might be covered in the state where the immigrant would live.