Can I count my unemployment checks toward my income for I-864 purposes?

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Question:

I’m a U.S. citizen, who is sponsoring my wife for a green card. She came from China originally, and overstayed her visa.

The issue right now is, I’m trying to fill out the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support required by USCIS, and am not sure I can reach the required sponsorship levels. The form asks for current income, of which I have only a moderate amount, from freelancing. I’m also getting unemployment checks. And I own a house, so I will be able to fill some of the gaps with assets. But my main question right now is, do the unemployment checks count, or is that a strike against me?

Answer:

Good news: Although some sources of money related to unemployment cannot be counted toward your income for purposes of filling out the Form I-864 on behalf of an intending immigrant (such as food stamps, SSI, Medicaid, and TANF), unemployment benefits are in a different category. They are basically insurance payments which you are allowed to collect upon based on your employer having paid into a federal/state unemployment system earlier.

For that matter, if you are also receiving any retirement benefits, worker’s compensation payments, or other benefits that are similarly considered “taxable income” by the IRS, you can count these toward meeting the 125% of Poverty Guidelines levels required in order to serve as an immigrant’s financial sponsor. (This comes from 71 Federal Register 35731.)

How long you will remain eligible for the unemployment benefits is an issue you should look into, however. The immigration authorities may consider this in assessing your ability to maintain the necessary income levels over time.

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