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Immigration and The Affidavit of Financial Support on Form I-864

By Dilip Patel

Dilip Patel


One of the most frequent reasons for delays in processing green cards relates to deficiencies with the Financial Affidavit of Support. The delays may be encountered in the Adjustment of Status application with the issuance of Request for Additional Evidence or even an outright denial. For immigrant visa applications, delays are encountered when the National Visa Center rejects documents or requires joint sponsors. Delays are also faced when the application for an immigrant visa is refused at the final interview at the Consulate. In this article, we will provide a brief background about the I-864 and include some pointers to avoid delays. The I-864 requirements are detailed and sometimes complicated. An experienced attorney may be able to help reduce delays – but sometimes, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or consular officers themselves are not fully familiar with the requirements and need to be guided to the relevant guidance and regulations.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsoring a relative for a green card, you must sign and submit an Affidavit of Support, also known as Form I-864 with full supporting documents showing your income and tax returns. There are some limited situations when the I-864 can be waived. For example, in cases where the Green Card applicant has already contributed enough Social Security contributions (generally 10 years), to be eligible for social security benefits.  

What Is Form I-864? By signing Form I-864, you are making a legal promise to support the person you’re sponsoring financially. This is a way to guarantee that they won’t have to rely on government help.

Who Must Sign? Primary sponsor: The main sponsor must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioning for the immigrant’s green card. Joint sponsor: If the primary sponsor’s income does not meet the requirements, a co-sponsor is needed. This sponsor has the same responsibilities as the primary sponsor.

Sponsor Eligibility. The sponsor must be at least 18 years old; a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; and must have an income at least 125 percent above the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The guidelines are available on the USCIS website at: www.uscis.gov/i-864p. For sponsors who do not have regular W-2 income, you must be able to clearly document all sources of income reported on the prior tax returns as well as current income. A lot of trouble can be avoided by submitting transcripts of tax returns obtained from the IRS as opposed to copies of the tax returns from personal records or from tax preparers. It is easy to download tax return transcripts from the IRS website as www.irs.gov. 

Key Responsibilities. The sponsor must ensure the sponsored immigrant maintains an income of at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and provide financial assistance if their income falls below this level.

Financial Risks and Considerations. Legal consequences: If you fail to provide financial support if the immigrant needs it, the sponsored person can sue you. You may also be liable for court and legal fees. Bankruptcy: Bankruptcy does not absolve you from your obligations under Form I-864. Government benefits: You must repay any means- tested benefits the sponsored person receives, such as Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, or SSI. You are not responsible for reimbursing non-means-tested benefits like emergency medical services or unemployment benefits.

When Do Your Sponsorship Responsibilities End? Your financial duties as a sponsor conclude when any of the following occurs: The individual gains U.S. citizenship; They complete 40 quarters of work (about 10 years); They permanently leave the United States; They are deported but gain U.S. residency again through another sponsor; or they pass away.

Continuing Obligations After Divorce. Divorce does not end your responsibilities under Form I-864. Additionally, courts generally do not recognize private agreements such as pre-marital, post-marital, or divorce contracts as valid reasons to avoid these obligations.

Withdrawing Sponsorship. You may withdraw your sponsorship before the green card application is approved. Once permanent residency is granted, your obligations are fixed unless they end under one of the specified conditions.

Address Change Notification. You must report any address changes within 30 days by submitting Form I-865 to USCIS to avoid fines of up to $5,000.

Understanding Your Commitment. Signing Form I-864 carries significant legal responsibilities. Make sure you understand these obligations before you proceed. Consider consulting a lawyer if necessary to ensure the person you sponsor can support themselves without public assistance. It is important to note that the obligations described above arise only under I-864. A sponsor letter for a visitor visa or the form I-134 does not create such obligations.

This article is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should not act or rely on any information in this article without seeking the advice of a competent, licensed immigration attorney.

Dilip Patel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a board-certified expert on immigration law, can be reached at (813) 222-1120 or email [email protected]

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