Over the last year, there has been alarming uptick of consular cases denied on public charge grounds. Under this ground, a visa may be refused if the "applicant is likely, at any time after admission, to become primarily dependent on the US Government (federal, state, or local) for subsistence. Under new Department of State guidelines, the Affidavit of Support, in and of itself-even where the petitioner meets 125% of the poverty guideline level-is no longer dispositive. While a strong affidavit may serve as a positive factor, a whole host of other factors should be taken into consideration by the consular officer, including the visa applicant's "age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills."
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.
In the case where a petitioner passes away before a beneficiary is able to immigrate, the I-130 is normally cancelled. Under certain circumstances, the case may still continue through approval of a humanitarian reinstatement request. These requests, unfortunately, are not automatically granted. There must be a strong demonstration of humanitarian factors that would warrant USCIS reinstating the cancelled petition with the original priority date. Furthermore, even if those grounds can be shown, there must also be a Substitute Sponsor waiting in the wings who is ready, willing, and financially able to incur the obligations involved with the I-864, Affidavit of Support.
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.