Last week, USCIS's plan to implement its new public charge rule and forms, including the dreaded I-944 Declaration of Self Sufficiency, was stymied by a temporary injunction blocking the revised guidelines. However, the nationwide ban only applied to adjustment of status cases inside the US. It technically did not prevent the Department of State from going forward with its own set of public charge rules published in an interim final rule that closely tracked the changes made by the Department of Homeland Security, scheduled to take effect October 15, 2019. (The Department of State regulates and oversees consular cases, that is, those cases which are scheduled abroad at US embassies around the world.) Fortunately, the Department of State recently announced that procedures would remain as is, for the time being, until approval of a new form which it will be requiring, has been secured. However, lest there be too much excitement, the new form, which will apply to consular cases, will likely be very similar and just as onerous as the I-944, which promises to be a nightmare for intending immigrants here in the US. We will obviously explore the I-944 in a future article, but applicants should be aware that a credit report will be required as well as inordinate documentation relating to the applicant's financial status.
In recent months, many of the more notable immigration developments have concerned the public charge ground of inadmissibility. The first rumblings occurred when the Department of State began implementing new guidelines vitiating the presumptive weight of an approvable I-864 affidavit of support. Even if a petitioner's income met or exceeded 125% of the federal poverty guideline, adjudicators were vested with greater authority to look beyond the affidavit and explore traditional factors in more detail. These traditional factors-health, age, education, income and resources-will undergo more scrutiny in determining whether an immigrant is likely to become a financial burden on the government.
In nearly all family based immigration cases, the petitioner must execute an I-864 Affidavit of Support form. The "affidavit" is essentially a contract between the sponsor and the US government that the sponsor has sufficient income to maintain the intending immigrant at 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline (new guidelines are released annually). As has been mentioned before in various articles devoted to this topic, this is a very serious obligation that continues even if the parties in a marriage based scenario divorce. One subject which does not receive as much attention, but which is equally important though, is how a sponsor can fulfill his/her obligations if he or she does not meet the financial threshold to sponsor the intending immigrant.
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.
One often-overlooked requirement of the affidavit of support is that the petitioner maintain a domicile in the United States. This issue comes into play when the petitioner, usually a United States Citizen, is living abroad and does not currently live or reside in the US.
In many different types of cases, USCIS will require an Affidavit of Support for an individual to qualify for a visa or green card. This can sometimes cause confusion because there are actually two different types of affidavits of support: there is Form I-134 and Form I-864. We have already covered the different aspects and issues raised by the Affidavit of Support in numerous articles found on the blog. The focus of this entry will be on the I-134 and its relationship to the visitor's visa (B1/B2).
What is the Affidavit of Support?