Family-based immigration programs and some employment-based immigration situations include guidelines for ensuring that sponsors are financially able to support their beneficiary. While this rule was intended to protect the United States from an overwhelming number of people needing public assistance, it also provides a safety net for those making their way across the border into the United States as they adjust or if they fall on hard times.
Without the required affidavit of support, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would not be able to determine whether the people admitted into the country have the necessary support to establish a new life in the United States.
What Is an affidavit of support?
An affidavit is a legal document that makes a statement, and the affidavit of support is just that — a statement to the United States government that someone has the financial means to support an immigrant’s journey to live in the United States. When a person submits an affidavit of support as part of someone else’s immigration application materials, such person is agreeing to be a financial sponsor in the United States.
The I-864 is a binding contract between the sponsor and the United States government. That means that the sponsor has legal obligations to the government and to the beneficiary.
- The sponsor’s income and assets will likely be used if the beneficiary applies for any assistance programs
- The government can recoup money from the sponsor that was provided (usually in error) to the beneficiary
- The beneficiary can sue the sponsor for financial support
Signing an affidavit of support is a serious matter, and it is important that both the sponsor and the beneficiary understand the significance of their positions. Financial sponsorships of green card holders are not forever, though. They are only valid until the intending immigrant dies or
- Becomes a U.S. citizen
- Receives credit for 40 quarters under the Social Security Act
- No longer has lawful permanent resident status and has departed the U.S.
- Enters into removal proceedings but receives a new grant of adjustment of status and will require a new I-864
Who can provide an affidavit of support?
To be a financial sponsor for immigration purposes, you must meet a few requirements under United States law.
- You must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder;
- You must be at least 18 years old;
- You must prove the United States is your primary place of residence; and
- You must be able to prove that you have an annual income of at least 125% above the federal poverty guidelines for your family size
However, if you want to sponsor beneficiaries but your income based on your household size is too low to automatically qualify under the federal poverty guidelines, you have options. You can:
- Include other household members’ incomes;
- Count your assets; or
- Get a joint sponsor.
If you are including other household members’ incomes in your petition, you will need to submit evidence of their income. If you are including yours or other household members’ assets, you can include savings accounts, stocks, bonds, or even property you own. As long as your assets can be converted into cash within a year, there is a good chance your assets will count. You can even count personal autos that you own, as long as you can prove it is not your primary vehicle.
If using assets to prove that you are financially capable of being a sponsor, you should verify that your assets meet some additional requirements. The total net value of assets, not including any liens against them, usually must be to equal five times the difference between the sponsor’s income and the required income based on the 125% rule, though there are some exceptions.
- Sponsors of spouses and children of U.S. citizens must only prove assets that can be valued at three times the difference between the poverty guidelines and their actual household income.
- Sponsors of orphans who will acquire citizenship after their admission to the United States must only prove assets directly equal to the difference between the poverty guidelines and their actual household income.
What is a joint I-864 sponsor?
In cases where the petitioner providing the affidavit of support still does not have enough assets to qualify as a sponsor, then a joint sponsor may be used. A joint sponsor is an additional signer of an affidavit of support who can meet the sponsorship requirements on their own. The joint sponsor does not need to have a certain relationship to the beneficiary and is not considered the primary sponsor. However, the joint sponsor is still legally liable for the beneficiary along with the primary petitioner.
Up to two joint sponsors may be used, which generally happens when there is a primary petitioner for a family unit but two joint sponsors are needed to meet the income requirements. In these cases, one joint sponsor may be used for some of the family members while the second joint sponsor is used for the others.
How do I fill out the I-864 joint sponsor application?
Just like a primary sponsor, joint sponsors qualify using Form I-864. As seen on an affidavit of financial support sample form, one of the very first items is to indicate whether the I-864 is for the petitioner, which is the primary sponsor, or whether or the I-864 is for a joint sponsor.
Do I need an affidavit of support?
All immigrants seeking a green card that fall under certain categories require a petitioner who submits an I-864.
- All immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents of U.S. citizens 21 years of age and older), except for children who are eligible for automatic citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA);
- All family-based preference immigrants (unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens 21 years of age and older);
- Employment-based preference immigrants in cases only when a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or U.S. national relative filed the immigrant visa petition or that relative has a significant ownership interest (five percent or more) in the business entity that filed the petition.
Sometimes, green card applicants can prove their own financial sponsorship through assets or income or are otherwise excluded from needing an I-864 sponsor. This includes when the green card applicant that:
- Can prove they have 40 qualifying credits of work — about ten years for many people — in the United States, either through their own or their spouse’s or parents work history;
- Will receive citizenship under the CCA;
- Self-petitioning widows or widowers with an approved Form I-360, which generally applies to foreign nationals who were married to American citizens in certain political or military roles;
- Self-petitioning battered spouses or children who have an approved Form I-360
Assets that are held in foreign accounts or property in countries other than the United States can be counted, too, under some circumstances, as can public benefits and nontaxable income. If an applicant is using his or her own income/assets to prove exemption from the I-864 sponsorship requirement, such applicant must still meet certain criteria. First, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that his or her income will continue after arrival in the United States. Second, the applicant must demonstrate that his or her assets can be reached within twelve months. Third, the applicant must show that there are enough assets available in spite of foreign rules about the amount of money/assets that can be withdrawn during a certain time.
What is the difference between an I-364 and an I-864?
While an I-864 is used to provide financial sponsorship for a green card applicant, the I-364 is used to provide an affidavit of support for a temporary, nonimmigrant visa applicant i.e. tourist and student visas amongst others.
- Diversity visa beneficiaries: Foreign nationals from some countries with low rates of immigration to the United States are awarded the opportunity for green cards under this program.
- Returning resident applicants: Sometimes, lawful permanent residents or conditional residents remain outside of the United States for longer than one year. For example, some may return home to care for a family member. In these cases, they must file an I-364 along with their application to acquire returning resident status.
- K-1 visa applicants: Along with the K-1 visa petition, the sponsoring fiance must complete an I-364. After the marriage, the U.S. citizen spouse will then need to submit an I-864 along with the other adjustment of status paperwork.
What documents are needed for an affidavit of support?
Along with the form I-864 itself, sponsors must also provide sufficient evidence for USCIS to review in order to approve the affidavit of support. All sponsors must provide USCIS with proof of income. These includes:
- Most recent tax return, including W-2s or a statement with evidence of filing exemption;
- Three years’ worth of any 1099s for contract income or Schedules for business income;
- Six months’ worth of pay stubs;
- An optional letter from your employer about your income;
- For U.S. citizens, a copy of the birth certificate, passport, or certificate of naturalization or citizenship or, for lawful permanent residents, a copy of both sides of the Form I-551 Permanent Resident Card.
Depending on the circumstance, some sponsors will need to include additional evidence such as:
- Proof of self-employment income;
- Proof of active military status;
- Form I-864A (for additional household members’ income being used to qualify);
- Form I-864A if the intending immigrant’s income is being used to qualify, along with proof that the income will continue from the same source;
- Evidence of assets’ ownership and value.
Additional documentation or forms may be required, depending on the complexity of the sponsorship petition or the presence of joint sponsors. In some cases, the same affidavit may be used for multiple intending immigrants, but sometimes different affidavits must be filed.
How can an experienced lawyer make the process easier?
While USCIS provides some helpful tips for completing the I-864, paperwork errors, like with any immigration process, can have a devastating effect on the outcome you desire. When you are looking to unify your family, you want everything to go as smoothly as possible, without surprises. Seeking the help of an experienced family immigration attorney can help you answer the hard questions you may not even know you need to ask. When you’re ready to get started, schedule a consultation with Farmer Law today.