An applicant for a family-based green card will need a financial sponsor in the United States before immigrating. Although some new green card holders may be able to find employment immediately and support themselves, the financial sponsor is necessary in case things don’t go as planned.
Every person who immigrates based on a family-based visa petition must have a financial sponsor. Whoever files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of a family member (or Form I-129F on behalf of a fiancé) must also agree to be the financial sponsor and file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, when the time comes for the person to actually immigrate to the United States.
Economic Grounds of Inadmissibility
In order to gain entry into the United States and become a permanent resident (green card holder), a foreign national must meet the eligibility requirements and also prove that he or she is not inadmissible under INA § 212(a). There are numerous grounds of inadmissibility — economic grounds of inadmissibility is one.
The need for a financial sponsor is rooted in the requirements that a new immigrant not be inadmissible to the United States. In fact, a foreign national who is deemed to be a “public charge” is inadmissible by law. The Department of State and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) define a public charge as a person who is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (1) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (2) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”
This immigration law helps ensure that new immigrants will not need to rely on public benefits such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. If the new immigrant becomes a permanent resident and is later given certain public benefits, the agency that gave the benefits can require that the financial sponsor repay that money.
Financial Sponsors File Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
Whichever family member signed the visa petition (Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative or Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé) will also need to file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This lengthy document is a contract between a sponsor and the U.S. government, in which the sponsor promises to support the intending immigrant if he or she is unable to do so on their own. Generally, the sponsor must prove that he or she has an income that is 125% of the U.S. poverty guidelines based on the household size.
2019 Income Requirements for Financial Sponsor
|Sponsor’s Household Size||125% of HHS Poverty Guidelines|
|Add $5,525 for each additional person|
The guidelines above apply to non-military members in the 48 contiguous states (as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). For sponsors on active duty in the U.S. armed forces or sponsors in the states of Alaska or Hawaii, modified guidelines can be found on the USCIS website.
Again, the sample chart above is for 2019. The financial sponsor will need to check Form I-864P for the most current HHS Poverty Guidelines before filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. If USCIS increases the guidelines later, it won’t affect applications that have already been filed.
Financial Sponsorship Examples
Alex, a U.S. citizen, recently married Rosie, a citizen of the Philippines. Rosie is applying for a green card to live in the United States with her husband. There are no children. Thus, there will be two people living in the house (Alex and Rosie), and the household size is 2. Referring to the chart above, Alex sees that he must have an income of at least $21,137 to overcome the public charge ground of inadmissibility in his wife’s case.
Rajesh, a U.S. citizen, has petitioned his adult son, Nilesh, an Indian national. Nilesh also has a dependent spouse and two minor children that were listed on the immigrant petition. Although Nilesh is highly educated and will probably find a well-paying job quickly, Rajesh must act as the financial sponsor for his family. Rajesh is currently living with his wife only. Therefore, the new household size is 6. Rajesh needs an income of at least $43,237 to act as the financial sponsor for the four intending immigrants (Nilesh, his wife and two children).
When the Financial Sponsor’s Income is Insufficient
If the financial sponsor’s income does not meet the requirement, personal assets such as checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, or property may be considered in determining financial ability. The assets must be convertible to cash within one year. Further, the assets don’t get counted at their full cash value. The value will be adjusted on the affidavit of support.
Most people don’t have the cash assets required to qualify. So it’s easier to find a household member or joint sponsor who can contribute.
If there is a relative (spouse, adult child, parent, or sibling) that lives in the same household as the main sponsor, he or she can generally as a household member that contributes income. On the other hand, a joint sponsor is an additional sponsor that doesn’t have to be related (to either party) and doesn’t have to live at the same address. For more, see the differences between a joint sponsor and household member.
When Obligations Under Affidavit of Support End
A financial sponsor’s obligations under Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, will end if the person who becomes a lawful permanent resident based on that affidavit:
- Becomes a U.S. citizen;
- Has worked, or can receive credit for, 40 quarters of coverage under the Social Security Act;
- No longer has lawful permanent resident status and has departed the United States;
- Is subject to removal, but applies for and obtains, in remove proceedings, a new grant of adjustment of status, based on a new affidavit of support, if one is required; or
However, divorce does not terminate a financial sponsor’s obligations under Form I-864.
Very Few Can Avoid the Affidavit of Support
It’s uncommon, but there are a few exceptions to the requirement for an affidavit of support. Perhaps most common is the exception for parents of a petitioned child that will immediately obtain U.S. citizenship through derivation. If the immigrant beneficiary is a child who will become a U.S. citizen immediately upon approval or entry to the U.S. for permanent residence, no Form I-864 must be filed for the child. In this case, the petitioner should submit a Form I-864W to explain the situation.
Additional exceptions apply for self-petitioning widows or widowers of U.S. citizens and self-petitioning battered spouses or children.
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Note to Reader: This post was originally published on March 8, 2017, and has been modified with improvements.