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The U.S. government has published its 2014 Poverty Guidelines. If you are sponsoring a family-member immigrant for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card), you will need to fill out a USCIS Form I-864 on the immigrant's behalf. Its purpose is to show that, according to the numbers set by the Poverty Guidelines, your household income is high enough to support the immigrant(s) at an amount 125% of more of U.S. poverty levels.
The idea behind this requirement is to make sure that your relative does not have to rely on need-based public assistance (welfare) in the United States. Prospective immigrants who are considered likely to become a “public charge” are considered inadmissible to the U.S., and thus ineligible for a visa or green card. By signing this form, you promise the U.S. government that you will either support the immigrant (for a certain length of time) or reimburse any government agencies that the immigrant draws on for financial assistance.
You will also have to be able to support anyone else dependent upon you. The Poverty Guidelines require that you total up everyone in your household or who is dependent on you (according to your tax return), then make sure that your income and assets are high enough to accomplish that.
As is usual, based on cost of living increases, the Poverty Guidelines amounts were raised in 2014. So, for example, while last year someone supporting a family of four would have had to show an income of $29,438, this year the amount required is $29,812.
To view and download the 2013 Poverty Guidelines, go to the USCIS website at http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-864p.pdf.
For more information on the petitioner’s role as financial sponsor, see Nolo’s articles on “The U.S. Sponsor's Financial Responsibilities.”