If you are sponsoring someone for a family based green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence) you will, as a condition of the person being approved, need to fill out an Affidavit of Support for that person. This is done on Form I-864, published by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
You may also be asked to sign a Form I-864 for a friend or relative, as a joint sponsor, because the main sponsor does not earn enough to support the immigrant alone.
Let's take a look at the legal implications of the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Signing one is a serious endeavor that should not be done lightly or with anything less than full trust in the immigrant's intentions. You should also attempt to read all the instructions that come with the form.
If you are the main sponsor and you are lucky, you might not have to fill out the long version of the form. Some sponsors get to use a considerably simpler Form I-864EZ rather than the Form I-864. If you are sponsoring only one immigrant, and your income alone is enough to satisfy the required Poverty Guidelines levels, be sure to use this easier form! (For information on how much income you will need to show, see "How Much Income an Immigrant's Sponsor Needs to Show According to the Poverty Guidelines.")
The Sponsor’s Obligations
The Form I-864 Affidavit of Support is a legally enforceable contract, meaning that either the government or the sponsored immigrant can take the sponsor to court if the sponsor fails to provide adequate support to the immigrant. In fact, the law places more obligations on the sponsor than on the immigrant -- the immigrant could decide to quit a job and sue the sponsor for support.
When the government sues the sponsor, it collects enough money to reimburse any public agencies that have given public benefits to the immigrant. When the immigrant sues, he or she collects cash support up to 125% of the amount listed in the U.S. government’s Poverty Guidelines (as shown in the chart in Form I-864P).
The sponsor’s responsibility lasts until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, has earned 40 work quarters credited toward Social Security (a work quarter is about three months, so this means about ten years of work), dies, or permanently leaves the United States. If the immigrant has already been living in the U.S. and earned work credits before applying for the green card, those count toward the 40.
In fact, in marriage-based cases, work done by the U.S. petitioning spouse during the marriage can be counted toward these 40 quarters.
A sponsor in a marriage-based case remains legally obligated even after a divorce. Yes, a divorced immigrant spouse could decide to sit on a couch all day and sue the former spouse for support. The sponsor may wish to have the immigrant sign a separate contract agreeing not to do this, but it is not clear whether courts would enforce such a contract.
Who Can Serve as an Immigrant's Financial Sponsor
The person petitioning the immigrant and any additional financial sponsor(s) must meet three requirements to serve in this role. Each sponsor must be:
• a U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident
• at least 18 years of age, and
• live in the United States or a U.S. territory or possession.
As a practical matter, of course, the sponsor will have to doing pretty well financially to get the immigrant approved for a green card. Even if the sponsor’s income and assets are lower than the Poverty Guidelines demand, however, he or she must sign an Affidavit of Support. But in a case of low income, the sponsor will have to look for additional sponsors to help the foreign-born person immigrate.
Take particular note of the third requirement if both the sponsor and the would-be immigrant are presently living overseas. The consulate may require that the sponsor show that this is a temporary absence, that the sponsor has maintained ties to the U.S., and that he or she intends to reestablish domicile there no later than the date that the immigrant is admitted as a permanent resident. Some of the ways the sponsor can show having maintained ties to the U.S. include having paid state or local taxes, kept U.S. bank accounts, kept a permanent U.S. mailing address, or voted in U.S. elections.
Sponsors who try to run away from their obligations will face fines. The U.S. government has anticipated that some sponsors might try to escape their financial obligation by simply moving and leaving no forwarding address. That’s why the law says that the sponsor must report a new address to USCIS on Form I-865 within 30 days of moving. A sponsor who does not comply faces fines of between $250 and $2,000; or $5,000 if the sponsor knows the immigrant has collected need-based public benefits.