I'm a college senior, and my girlfriend of three years and I plan to marry soon. She is from Estonia, and is currently in the U.S. on a student visa. I'd like to sponsor her for a green card. I see from Form I-864, however, that I'm supposed to have an income that covers the two of us – and at the moment, I haven't got any income at all. Fortunately, my parents are happy about this marriage, and they've offered to send us regular gifts of cash before we find jobs of our own. Can I count this cash as income on Form I-864?
You are right that you will need to sign a Form I-864 as part of sponsoring your spouse for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) – in fact, you'll have to fill out and sign that form whether you have any income or not.
Unfortunately, there is no provision on the form to count regular gifts as income. The next best possibility is if your parents can make you a large lump-sum gift of cash now, and you can put it in a bank account in your name and claim it as an asset. Ownership of assets can be a good way to make up the shortfall in your income for purposes of Form I-864.
You won't be allowed to count the entire amount, however. When petitioning for a spouse (or a child), the sponsor must count the assets at one-third their value. (U.S. citizen sponsors of family members other than spouses or children need to divide the assets' value by five.)
So, for instance, if your parents gave you $30,000, you'd get to count $10,000 toward your sponsorship responsibilities – which would still not be enough for two people, according to the Poverty Guidelines levels listed on Form I-864P.
Consulting an attorney might be a good idea. With some strategizing around timing, you may be able to manage things so that both you and your new wife are working by the time her green card interview comes around (usually at least a few months after you turn in the Adjustment of Status application forms), and thus she can be approved at that point without having to get help from additional sponsors.
Also see Nolo's article, "Strategies When an Immigrant's Sponsor's Income and Assets Are Too Low."