How Overseas U.S. Citizen Proves U.S. Domicile for Form I-864 Sponsorship

If both the immigrating beneficiary and the U.S. family sponsor are living abroad, the sponsor will need to supply U.S. immigration authorities with evidence of U.S. domicile along with Form I-864.

By , Attorney · Florida Coastal School of Law

If you are a U.S. citizen wishing to sponsor your foreign citizen relative for a green card, the paperwork you'll need to file is likely to include a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support (with some exceptions). This form is intended to create a contract between the U.S. government and you, in which you (as the immigrant's sponsor or "petitioner") give a financial guarantee to make sure that your relative (the so-called "beneficiary") never becomes dependent on U.S. government assistance for basic needs.

In order to qualify as an I-864 sponsor, you must, among other things, be "domiciled" in the United States. Unlike low income, this is not an issue that can be overcome by bringing in a joint sponsor. Here, we'll discuss what that means and how to satisfy the requirement if you currently live in another country.

Definition of "U.S. Domicile" for Immigration Purposes

To be considered "domiciled in the United States," it must be the country where you currently maintain your "principal residence" (that is, the place where you live most of the time) and where you intend to maintain such residence for the foreseeable future.

Some people live abroad but can still claim a U.S. domicile. To do so, however, you would need to submit with your Form I-864 a written explanation and documentary evidence showing either that you:

  • are employed abroad by certain U.S.-related entities (detailed in the next section), or
  • are otherwise living abroad temporarily (also detailed below).

If you can't show that, you'll need to take other steps, namely showing your intention to return to the United States to live, as discussed further below.

Who Qualifies as a U.S. Citizen Employed Abroad by a U.S.-Related Entity

U.S. citizens who live abroad will be considered U.S. domiciled if they are employed by one of the following U.S. related entities:

  • The U.S. government: This includes not just embassies and consulates but also the U.S. military and other U.S. agencies.
  • U.S. research institutions: This includes a specific set of institutions listed in federal regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 316.20(a).
  • A public international organization in which the U.S. participates by law: This includes those listed in federal regulations at 8 C.F.R. §§ 316.20(b) and (c).
  • A U.S.-owned company engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the U.S.: This includes partnerships, registered for-profit and not-for-profit entities, and the parents or subsidiaries of such entities, involved at least in part in activities sufficiently related to the exchange of goods and services between the United States and a foreign country.
  • A religious denomination or interdenominational organization with an official presence in the United States (where the employee is a priest, minister, or missionary).

In some (though not all) of these cases, "employment" could include not only full-time, permanent employment but also work under grants, contracts, or other forms of services. There is no strong requirement that such employment be the only, or even the main reason for the employee's presence abroad. The definition will depend on the particulars of your case. (Consult an immigration attorney to find out if it applies in your case.)

Letters from employers (on official letterhead) should be submitted as evidence. Employees of U.S. companies should also submit evidence of their company's creation and ownership.

Who Qualifies as a U.S. Citizen Living Abroad Temporarily

U.S. citizens who live abroad will be considered U.S. domiciled if they left the United States for only a limited period of time (however extended such period might be) with the intent, at the time of departure, to maintain their domicile in the United States, and if they have also kept ties to the country after their departure.

Immigration officers recognize that many U.S. citizens who are not employed by U.S.-related entities still move abroad with the intent to pursue definite projects and to return to the United States at some later date. These often include students (such as participants in study abroad programs), contract workers, and nongovernmental organization volunteers. In order to prove that they have maintained a domicile in the U.S., such persons should emphasize the term of their project, as evidence of their intent to maintain U.S. domicile at the time of their departure from the United States.

Evidence that ties to the U.S. were maintained could include, for example:

  • receipts for property storage facilities in the U.S.
  • proof of renewed licenses, subscriptions, or contributions to organizations in the U.S.
  • proof of having continued to vote in U.S. elections
  • proof of property owned or leased in the U.S.
  • proof of visits made to family and friends in the U.S.
  • proof of continuing to receive mail in the U.S.
  • proof of having renewed a U.S. driver's license, and
  • statements of bank-, mortgage- or other accounts maintained in the United States.

Other relevant evidence could include evidence of temporary (as opposed to permanent) immigration status in the foreign country, as well as relevant correspondence with institutions, colleagues, family, and friends (for example, making arrangements related to the temporary nature of your foreign stay).

Who Qualifies as a U.S. Citizens Intending to Establish a U.S. Domiciled Along With the Intending Immigrant

If you are a U.S. citizen domiciled abroad, you might still be allowed to file a Form I-864 if you intend to establish a domicile in the United States in the future; either before or at the time of your immigrating beneficiary's arrival in the United States.

Evidence of such intent should include proof that you have taken concrete steps towards leaving the foreign country to move permanently to the U.S., such as:

  • correspondence with U.S. landlords
  • resignation from your foreign job and application to jobs in the U.S.
  • initiation of a business in the U.S.
  • closing of financial accounts with foreign institutions and opening of accounts with U.S. institutions, and
  • enrolling your children in U.S. schools.

Getting Legal Help

For personalized assistance with your family-based petition, consult an experienced attorney. Among other forms of assistance with the paperwork and processing, the attorney can analyze whether you do, indeed, qualify to serve as the immigrant's financial petitioner, and if so, how to present the most relevant evidence to convince U.S. immigration authorities of that fact.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to an Immigration attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you