If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder), and you petition for a member of your family to receive a green card, you will have to agree to sponsor that person financially as well. What that means is explained in this article.
Purpose of Your Support Obligation
In order for your family member to succeed in obtaining a green card, the person will need to prove (among other things) that he or she is not “inadmissible.” One of the grounds of inadmissibility found in the U.S. immigration laws is that the person is likely to become a “public charge.” (See Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A., Section 212.) A public charge is someone who receives U.S. government assistance based on financial need.
As the petitioner and financial sponsor, you will not only need to show that your income and assets are high enough to avoid the immigrant becoming a public charge, but you’ll have to promise to pay the government back if the immigrant ends up claiming certain types of public assistance benefits.
Promising Support Using Form I-864 Affidavit of Support
You’ll see how serious the U.S. government is about wanting your promise of financial support when you fill out the required USCIS Form I-864.
The form will ask you for specific information about your household size, as well as your income and assets, and require you to attach proof, in the form of tax returns, documentary evidence of your employment, and documentary evidence of any assets being claimed.
By signing Form I-864, you are entering into an enforceable contract with the United States government. Your obligations under this contract do not end until the immigrant has either:
- become a U.S. citizen
- earned 40 work quarters in the U.S. (as defined by the Social Security Administration – this works out to approximately ten years)
- died, or
- permanently left the United States.
Note that divorce does not end at your obligations under the Affidavit of Support.
Exceptions to the Support Obligation
In some instances, the petitioner will not be looked to for financial support. These include where:
- the immigrant has already worked legally in the United States (perhaps with a nonimmigrant visa or a work permit) for a total of 40 quarters.
- the petitioning spouse has already worked 40 work quarters while married to the immigrant, or
- the immigrant is a child who will become a U.S. citizen immediately upon approval or entry to the United States for a green card.
In any of these cases, the petitioner will need to file a form called I-864W in order to claim the exception.
Are Your Income and Assets High Enough to Meet Your Support Obligation?
Your assets and income must be at least 125% of the federal Poverty Guidelines in order to show that you can maintain the applying immigrant as well as any other members of your household. For the latest table showing the required income amounts for different household sizes, see USCIS Form I-864P.
If your income alone isn’t high enough, you (the petitioner) as well as the immigrant may count your assets, if they are readily convertible to cash, at a percentage of their full value (usually one fifth).
What If Your Income and Assets Are Not High Enough to Meet Your Support Obligation?
If someone else is willing, such as perhaps a friend or family member, that person can become a “joint sponsor,” by filing an additional Affidavit of Support on the immigrants’ behalf. That person would need to fill out a complete separate Form I-864. You can have up to two joint sponsors per family, but no more than one per immigrant.
Alternately, a member of your household can agree to add his or her earnings to the total support amount. That person would need to fill out a Form I-864A. In fact, the immigrant him- or herself can add income to the mix if the person is already living with few in the United States and working legally in a job that will continue after giving the green card.
Long-Term Legal Obligations
You may be sued by the sponsored immigrant if you do not give sufficient financial support to him or her. Such lawsuits are rare, however.
You may also be asked for repayment and ultimately sued by a U.S. government agency from which the immigrant received a mean-tested public benefit such as food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, or State Child Health Insurance benefits.