Not everyone petitioning for a family member to immigrate to the U.S. needs to fill out the full Affidavit of Support on Form I-864. However, those who are exempt will need to prove this, by having the immigrant fill out and submit Form I-864W (available as a free download from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS). This article will explain how to fill out the form and prepare the supporting documents.
Want to learn about all the possible exemptions? See Nolo’s article, “Who Is Exempt From Submitting Form I-864 Affidavit of Support.”
Either the immigrant, his or her U.S. citizen spouse, or a combination of the two will need to have earned 40 “quarters” or “credits” of work according to the Social Security Administration’s definition. Because a combination is okay, you could show that the immigrant earned 20 credits and the U.S. spouse earned another 20 during the time period that they were married, or any combination that gets you to at least 40.
Forty credits is approximately ten years’ worth of work, with the maximum credits one can earn per year having been set at four. But it's not quite as simple as counting up the years you have worked.
The number of credits earned depends in part on how much money the worker earned during each year, and on the amount of earnings required to get you one “credit.” (In 2015, for example, the amount is $1,220.) See the SSA publication, “How You Earn Credits” for more information.
The starting point for figuring out how many quarters or credits you’ve earned is to go to the Social Security website, create an account, and request your earnings statement. If you’ve already earned 40 credits, the statement will tell you this – it happens to be the same number of credits a person needs to earn in order to qualify for Social Security benefits.
If you haven’t yet earned 40 quarters or credits, the SSA statement should tell you how many you have earned. If it doesn't, or if you doubt the accuracy of what is stated there, see the “Quarter of Coverage” page of the SSA website.
In Part 1, you will fill out biographical information about the family member who is immigrating. No need to enter a Social Security Number unless this person already has a legally valid one. The “Alien Registration Number” is also known as an A-number. It’s an eight- or nine-digit number that an immigrating family member would have received only after an encounter with U.S. immigration authorities, such as having received a work permit or been in removal (deportation) proceedings. People keep the same A-number throughout their contact with the U.S. immigration system.
In Part 2, you will need to say why you are excused from the normal requirement of submitting a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Be prepared to supply proof of whichever category you choose.
In Part 3, enter the immigrant’s name on the first blank line, then have him or her sign the form and enter the date. (The exception is if the immigrant is a child, less than age 14 – then the immigrating parent can sign here.)
That's it! The whole point of this form is that it's supposed to be short and simple, merely serving to explain why you don't have to fill out the "real" form.
Don't forget, you will need to come up with documentation to accompany your Form I-864W, in order to prove eligibility for this exemption. A copy of your and/or your spouse's SSA statement(s) should do this.