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Meeting the Financial Requirements to Sponsor an Alien Relative Without a Joint Sponsor

Posted on Thursday, December 20, 2012

When a foreign national applies for a Green Card based on the Immediate Relative Petition (I-130) of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member, the petitioner (sponsor) must submit an Affidavit of Support (I-864). The I-864 is a legally enforceable contract guaranteeing that the sponsor will provide the financial support the government requires.  immigration attorney lawyer chicago i-864 affidavit of support i-130 visa green card permanent resident tax return w-2 joint sponsor income assets savingsThe sponsor’s obligation continues until the sponsored family member becomes a U.S. citizen, loses or gives up his permanent resident status, achieves the minimum income required for Social Security coverage for 40 quarters, or passes away. 

In most cases, completing the I-864 is quite straightforward. The sponsor must show that there is sufficient household income to equal at least 125% of the current poverty level based on household size including the immigrant. Most sponsors submit a standard set of documents, including tax returns, W-2s, an employment letter, and recent pay stubs.

It is important to note that petitioners and joint sponsors have identical obligations. If the primary sponsor should become unable to support his sponsored relative, the joint sponsor would be required to shoulder the entire responsibility. For this reason, it can sometimes be difficult for a petitioner to identify another person willing to act as a joint sponsor.

In today’s challenging economic climate, not all petitioners are able to document sufficient income to meet the I-864 standard at the time their relative wishes to enter the U.S. or adjust status to permanent resident. Sometimes, a petitioner is able to identify a willing and qualified joint sponsor. Such a person must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but does not need to be related to either the petitioner or beneficiary.

The recent recession has posed a challenge for petitioners who suddenly find themselves unemployed just as an I-864 is due. This is not necessarily an insurmountable issue. A petitioner may still qualify if he has other significant assets such as savings accounts, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, real estate, etc.

immigration attorney lawyer chicago i-864 affidavit of support i-130 visa green card permanent resident tax return w-2 joint sponsor income assets savings

To qualify based on assets, the total value of the assets must equal at least five times the gap between the petitioner’s income and 125% of the current poverty level. However, if the petitioner is a U.S. citizen and the sponsored relative is a spouse or child, the total value of the assets need only be three times the difference.

For many sponsors, equity in the family home may be the only significant asset available for Affidavit of Support purposes. In recent years, the weak real estate market has led to the denial of some asset-based I-864s because the USCIS was not convinced that the home could be converted into a sufficient amount of cash within one year. Since individuals who are “underwater” on their mortgages actually have a negative net equity, it would be counterproductive to alert USCIS to what is currently an additional debt.

immigration attorney lawyer chicago i-864 affidavit of support i-130 visa green card permanent resident tax return w-2 joint sponsor income assets savingsIn some cases, assets such as jewelry, furs, motor homes or even stamp collections may be available for use on an Affidavit of Support. Before submitting the I-864, a sponsor should have such items appraised by a reputable professional to establish their current value. The cash value of an insurance policy and the Blue Book value of an automobile may also be used, net of any outstanding loans against them.  However, if the sponsor is counting a vehicle as an asset, he must have another in good working order. Even assets located outside the U.S. may also be counted as long as they can be converted into cash within 13 months.  

Even with the 5x or 3x multiplier, the net asset value required to meet the I-864 standard can be quite modest. For instance, 125% of the 2013 poverty level for a family of three is only $23,863. Consider a husband and wife sponsoring one of their siblings for permanent residence. immigration attorney lawyer chicago i-864 affidavit of support i-130 visa green card permanent resident tax return w-2 joint sponsor income assets savingsPreviously a two-income couple, the wife has now been unemployed for over a year, while the husband has maintained steady employment at an annual salary of $20,000. To make up the $3,863 gap, they need only to document $3,863 x 5 = $19,315 in qualifying assets.

The beneficiary of a relative’s I-130 immigrant petition may wait many years for a visa number to become available. If the petitioner is in temporary financial distress and cannot find a co-sponsor, he may still be able to satisfy the I-864 requirement with a combination of income and assets. This flexibility has opened the door for many sponsors to welcome their sponsored relatives to the U.S. and re-unite as a family.

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