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What a Sponsor Needs to Know About the Affidavit of Support

Posted on Friday, September 30, 2011

 Are you planning to sponsor a relative to become a permanent resident in the U.S.? If so, it's important to understand what the sponsorship process entails. An Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) is generally required whenever someone applies for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status to permanent resident. The Affidavit of Support is a legally enforceable contract between the sponsor and the U.S. Government for the benefit of the i-864 affidavit support income sponsor immigrant jointsponsored immigrant. The information provided on the I-864 also comes into play if the immigrant applies to a Federal, State, or local governmental agency for public benefits based on ability to pay.

With your signature on the I-864, you agree to provide support to maintain the sponsored person at an annual income that is not less than 125$ of the Federal poverty guideline. This does not mean that you must be wealthy to bring a relative to the U.S. In 2011, if you live in a four-person household, you can sponsor an intending immigrant as long as your documented income is at least $27,937. However, in calculating your household size for the purposes of determining the minimum income requirement, you must include the family member you are sponsoring, anyone else you have sponsored in the past, and any others you are legally responsible for supporting. If you have a spouse and children, they must be included in your household size even if they do not live with you.

What happens if your documented income doesn't meet the required level? If another member of your household - for instance, your spouse - has enough income, when combined with yours, to meet the Affidavit of Support requirement, you may together file form I-864A along with the I-864. Form I-864A is a contract between you and the other household member to sponsor the immigrant together. Alternatively, another person outside your household can act as a joint sponsor for your relative.

All sponsors must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are at least 18 years of age and maintain a primary residence in the U.S. If you are the main sponsor and a U.S. citizen, you must be a brother, sister, adult child, parent or spouse of the intended immigrant. If you are the main sponsor and a Permanent Resident, you must be either the parent or spouse of the intended immigrant. However, a joint sponsor may be anyone who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting your family member with you. No family relationship is required.

When filing an immigrant petition for multiple family members, you and any joint sponsors may divide responsibility for the intending immigrants. However, as the primary sponsor you are still responsible for all of the people on the petition. It's important for people considering joint sponsorship to understand that they are making a contract with the U.S. Government just as you are. This is a serious commitment.

Your obligation as a sponsor begins after the intending immigrant acquires permanent residence, either through entering the country on an immigrant visa or, if they are already in the U.S., by adjusting their status to permanent resident. Your obligation may end in one of five ways:

1) When the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen;

2) When the sponsored immigrant loses or relinquishes his or her permanent residence status;

3) When the sponsored immigrant obtains a new grant of Adjustment of Status in a removal proceeding;

4) When the sponsored immigrant has earned or been credited with 40 qualifying quarters of work under Title II of the Social Security Act; or

5) When the sponsored immigrant dies.

As a practical matter, to date there have been very few instances of government actions against sponsors for failing to provide the required support for their relative(s). However, any sponsor or potential sponsor should be aware of their responsibilities under the law. Given the current budget problems at all levels of government, it may only be a matter of time before agencies start to regularly enforce the law.

Despite the lack of agency enforcement actions, enforcement by family members has been steadily increasing over the last few years. In a 2005 case in Federal District Court, a spouse had filed an I-864 on behalf of his immigrant wife as part of her application for adjustment of status. Later, the two were involved in divorce proceedings. The wife decided to enforce the provisions of the Affidavit of Support rather than seek spousal support or alimony. The court decided in her favor and concluded that the husband was obliged to maintain his spouse at 125% of the poverty income level until one of the five "terminating events" had occurred.

You may have a question about "qualifying quarters" under Title II of the Social Security Act. The calculation of qualifying quarters is determined by the amount of wages earned during a calendar year. A worker can earn a maximum of four quarters of Social Security coverage per year, but these quarters do not have to be earned in corresponding three-month calendar periods. For example, if $100 in earnings is needed to qualify for a quarter of coverage, once a worker earns $4,000 in a year, he or she can be credited with the maximum four quarters of coverage for that year. Since at most only 4 quarters of coverage can be earned in a year, it will take just over 9 years at the earliest for a sponsored immigrant to fulfill the 40 quarter requirement.

Aside from the five terminating events listed above, there are no other circumstances in which a sponsor's responsibilities to an immigrant can be terminated. Moreover, if you file an I-864 in order to immigrate a spouse, you must bear in mind that separation or divorce will not end your obligation. Also, termination of your support obligation does not relieve you (or your estate) of any reimbursement obligation for unpaid support before the obligation ended.

Finally, during the period in which the Affidavit of Support is enforceable, you are required to report any change of address within 30 days. This can be accomplished by completing and submitting Form I-865, Notice of Sponsor's Change of Address, available online at Failure to submit this form within the 30 day period can result in a fine ranging from $250 to $2,000. If you fail to file this form knowing that the Sponsored Immigrant has received any income-based public benefits, the fine will range from $2,000 to $5,000.

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