To petition for and sponsor an immigrant to become a U.S. permanent resident, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner must show readiness and ability to support that person financially for a period of years.
The idea is to demonstrate to the U.S. government that the immigrant is not inadmissible as someone likely to become a “public charge” that is, someone who will need to receive need-based government assistance.
This article comprehensively discusses what Form I-864 is.
What is “Affidavit of Support”, Form I-864
Form I-864, also known as the Affidavit of Support Form, is required by the law for most intending immigrants.
The purpose of the Form I-864 is to prove that an immigrant has adequate means of financial support and is unlikely to become a public charge.
Form I-864 is a legal contract between a sponsor or petitioner, intending immigrant, and the U.S. government.
This shows that, as an immigrant, you will be financially supported if you find it difficult to cope on your own.
In other words, it is a back-up plan in the likelihood of financial difficulty.
The affidavit represents the sponsor’s promise to either support the immigrant financially or pay back any government agencies from which the immigrant does claim financial assistance.
It also shows the sponsor’s capacity to provide the promised support, by proving income and assets that are at least 125% of the amount at which someone would be considered to be living in poverty, according to the U.S. government’s Poverty Guidelines.
Who can become a sponsor?
As Form I-864 must be completed by a sponsor, the following are the eligibility requirements of an intending sponsor:
- Must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- Must be age 18 years or older
- Must have an income of 125% above the Poverty Guidelines. If you are on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, and you are sponsoring your spouse or minor child, you only need to have an income of 100 percent of the Federal poverty line for your household size.
- Must prove that the United States is his or her country of domicile.
Country of domicile
A country of domicile is the country where you make your permanent home.
If, as a sponsor, you live and work in the United States, your country of domicile is the United States.
If, as a sponsor, you live outside the United States due to temporary employment, but you have maintained a home in the U.S. and you intend to return to that home, your country of domicile is the United States.
If, as a sponsor, you live outside the United States but you intend in good faith to reestablish domicile in the United States no later than the date of the intending immigrant’s admission or adjustment of status, you may claim U.S. domicile.
You cannot be a sponsor if you live permanently outside the United States and do not intend to return to the U.S.
Affidavit of Support (I-864) – Who needs to submit?
The following immigrants are required by law to submit Form I-864 completed by the petitioner to obtain an immigrant visa overseas or to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident in the United States:
- All immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents of U.S. citizens 21 years of age and older)
- All family-based preference immigrants (unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens 21 years of age and older).
- Employment-based preference immigrants in cases only when a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or U.S. national relative filed the immigrant visa petition or such relative has a significant ownership interest (five percent or more) in the entity that filed the petition.
Who is exempt from submitting Form I-864 Affidavit of Support?
The purpose of the Affidavit of Support is to assure the U.S. government that the immigrant is not inadmissible as someone likely to become a public charge.
Some categories of applicants, however, are exempt from the Affidavit of Support requirement and do not need to submit a Form I-864 at all.
Exemption Based on the Child Citizenship Act
Under the Child Citizenship Act (CCA), certain immigrant children will become U.S. citizens automatically, as soon as they become U.S. permanent residents.
This is called the “derivation” of citizenship.
Such applicants do not need an I-864 Affidavit of Support to be filed for them.
Exemption Based on Self-Petition by Widow(er) of U.S. Citizen
Widows and widowers of U.S. citizens may, regardless of the duration of their marriage, self-petition for or continue with their application for U.S. residence, so long as they do so within the two years of the U.S. citizen’s death and do not remarry.
They will not need to submit an I-864 Affidavit of Support.
Their approved Form I-360 will be enough proof of their exemption.
If the deceased U.S. citizen filed an I-130 petition before the death, it converts to an I-360 automatically, though the immigrant will need to advise USCIS of the death first.
Exemption Based on VAWA Self-Petition
Abused or battered spouses or children self-petitioning for U.S. green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) are also exempt from the I-864 Affidavit of Support requirement.
Their approved Form I-360 will be enough proof of their exemption.
Unless you qualify for one of the exemptions described above, you must submit Form I-864 even if your income is NOT sufficient to sponsor the immigrant.
In that situation, however, one of your options is to make sure the immigrant’s green card application is successful is to look for a joint sponsor, living in the U.S., whose income and/or assets equal at least 125% of the Poverty Guidelines, taking into account both the number of people in the joint sponsor’s household and the number of incoming immigrants.
The joint sponsor would also sign a Form I-864, thereby promising to provide any financial support necessary to assist you in supporting the immigrant(s).
More about joint sponsorship will be discussed later in this article.
Other Financial Support Forms
There are four forms associated with the process, of which you’ll have to fill out at least one:
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
- Form I-864EZ, Affidavit of Support
- Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member
Who Should Use Form I-864EZ?
Some petitioners can use a simpler form of the I-864 Affidavit of Support, called the I-864EZ.
To be eligible, you must:
- be the person who filed the original Form I-130 on behalf of the immigrant has listed only one immigrant on Form I-130 (without any derivative spouses or children)
- be able to show sufficient income to support the immigrant based solely on your salary and pension, which amount is shown on the W-2 Form(s) provided by your employer or former employer.
Following categories of sponsors cannot use Form I-864EZ:
- Joint sponsors
- Petitioners who filed Form I-140
- “Substitute sponsors” filing on behalf of a deceased petitioner, or
- Petitioners sponsoring more than one immigrant on the same I-130
Who Should Use Form I-864A?
If your income is not at least 125% of the Poverty Guidelines for your family size, you will not be able to sponsor an immigrant unless you can meet the income requirement in some other way.
This might include using income from relatives or dependents living in your household or listed on your most recent federal tax return.
If these people in your household are willing to help sponsor the immigrant, they must sign Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member. In doing so, they promise to provide any financial support necessary to assist you in supporting the immigrant.
Who Should Use Form I-864W?
NOTE: Form I-485 is now used to collect information previously collected on Form I-864W, Request for Exemption for Intending Immigrant’s Affidavit of Support.
Adjustment applicants no longer need to file Form I-864W.
Affidavit of Support Checklist
You will be required to provide photocopies of the following documents with your Form I-864:
For U.S. citizens or nationals:
- Birth certificate
- Certificate of naturalization
- Certificate of citizenship
- Photo (biographic page) of U.S. passport.
For lawful permanent residents:
- Both sides of your Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551; “green card”)
Tax records. You are required to provide documentation of your most recent year’s Federal income tax returns. You are not required to provide returns for the additional two preceding years, but it is generally best practice to do so. There are two options for how to document your returns.
- Photocopies of returns. You are permitted to provide a photocopy of your federal income tax returns. Ideally, this should be a photocopy of the signed form that you submitted to the IRS, including all attachments.
- Tax transcript. Alternatively, you can request something called a tax transcript directly from the IRS. This is the definitive record of your tax filing history. The transcript can be requested by filing a paper copy of Form 4506-T with the IRS.
Other supporting documents (if applicable)
- A separate Form I-864A for each household member using assets other than for the intending immigrant
- Proof that the intending immigrant’s current employment will continue from the same source if his or her income is being used
- If you are using the income of persons in your household or dependents to qualify, a separate Form I-864A for each person whose income you will use. However, an intending immigrant whose income is being used needs to complete Form I-864A only if his or her spouse and/or children are immigrating with him or her.
- If you are the petitioning sponsor and on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or U.S. Coast Guard and are sponsoring your spouse or child using 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, proof of your active military status.
- If you are sponsoring more than one intending immigrant listed on the same affidavit of support, photocopies of the original affidavit of support may be submitted for any additional intending immigrants listed. Copies of supporting documentation are not required for these family members.
- If you are a joint sponsor, substitute sponsor, or the relative of an employment-based immigrant requiring an affidavit of support, proof of your citizenship status, lawful permanent resident status, or U.S. national status.
- If you are currently self-employed, a copy of your Schedule C, D, E, or F from your most recent Federal income tax return which establishes your income from your business.
- If you use your assets or the assets of a household member to qualify, documentation of assets establishing location, ownership, date of acquisition, and value. Evidence of any liens or liabilities against these assets.
When Can I file Affidavit of Support?
Form I-864 must be submitted within one year of the sponsor’s signature.
If it is submitted after one year, a new I-864 will be required.
After the Form I-864 has been submitted and accepted, it does not expire.
However, if the supporting documents are more than 12 months old, USCIS will ask for new supporting documents, such as the most recent federal income tax returns (1040) and a current employment letter.
Affidavit of Support Fees
There is no fee if the sponsored immigrant files this form with USCIS or abroad with the Department of State (DOS), however, DOS does charge a fee if they file in the U.S.
However, there is only one fee charged, even if there are multiple financial sponsors associated with a single case.
This fee is paid online at ceac.state.gov. You will need the National Visa Center (NVC) case number and Invoice Identification Number to log onto this site.
What are the income requirements for 2021?
The following are the poverty guidelines effective beginning April 1, 2021:
2021 Minimum Annual Income Requirements for Green Card Sponsors: 125% of Federal Poverty Guidelines
|Sponsor’s Household Size||Applicants in 48 contiguous states, D.C., and U.S. territories||Applicants in Alaska||Applicants in Hawaii|
|More than 8||Add $5,675 for each additional person||Add $7,100 for each additional person||Add $6,525 for each additional person|
2021 Minimum Annual Income Requirements for Military Sponsors: 100% of Federal Poverty Guidelines
|Sponsor’s Household Size||Applicants in 48 contiguous states, D.C., and U.S. territories||Applicants in Alaska||Applicants in Hawaii|
|More than 8||Add $4,540 for each additional person||Add $5,680 for each additional person||Add $5,220 for each additional person|
What if sponsor doesn’t meet the income requirements?
If sponsor cannot meet the minimum income requirements using earned income, he/she can add the cash value of his/her assets.
This includes money in savings accounts, stocks, bonds, and property.
To determine the amount of assets required to qualify, subtract your household income from the minimum income requirement (125% of the poverty level for your family size).
You must prove the cash value of your assets is worth five times this difference (the amount leftover).
- If the person being sponsored is a spouse or son/daughter (who is 18 years or older) of a U.S. citizen: The minimum cash value of assets must be three times the difference between the sponsor’s household income and 125% of the federal poverty guideline for the household.
- If the person being sponsored is an orphan coming to the United States for adoption: The adoptive parent’s assets need to equal or exceed the difference between the household income and 125% of the federal poverty line for the household size.
- You can count the income and assets of members of your household who are related to you by birth, marriage, or adoption. To use their income, you must have listed them as dependents on your most recent federal tax return or they must have lived with you for the last 6 months. They must also complete a Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member. If the relative you are sponsoring meets these criteria you can include the value of their income and assets, but the immigrant does not need to complete Form I-864A unless he or she has accompanying family members.
- You may count the assets of the relatives you are sponsoring.
How do I calculate my household size?
The Form I-864 asks for the financial sponsor’s household size.
When calculating their household size, sponsors must include:
- Their spouse
- Any unmarried children under 21 (unless these children have reached majority under the law of their place of domicile)
- Anyone else claimed as a dependent on the sponsor’s tax return
- The principal applicant being sponsored
- Any derivative applicants who plan to immigrate within six months, and
- Any other people in the United States whom the sponsor is supporting on a different Form I-864.
A sponsor does not have to include people on other I-864s who have not yet immigrated to the United States.
Liabilities of Financial Sponsor
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.
When the government sues the sponsor, it can collect enough money to reimburse any public agencies that have given public benefits to the immigrant.
The sponsor’s responsibility lasts until sponsored 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.
Before you agree to financially sponsor an immigrant, consider the following potential liabilities:
- Sponsoring an immigrant spouse cannot end with a divorce when you agree to financially sponsor a fiancé(e) or spouse, keep in mind that if you eventually get divorced, your sponsorship liability doesn’t go away with the divorce decree. Even after the divorce, you will still be financially responsible for your former spouse.
- The immigrant may sue you for financial support – while you aren’t liable for the immigrant’s personal debts and bills, you are generally responsible for ensuring they have financial means to meet the US poverty line.
- The US Government may sue you to recover benefit program costs – if the immigrant receives benefits from certain means-tested assistance programs and you are unwilling to voluntarily repay the debt, you may find yourself in court. Civil suits are rare, but the option is always on the table.
- USCIS may fine you for failing to update your address when you move – to prevent sponsors from running from their financial responsibility to the immigrant, a sponsor is required to file a change of address every time they move using Form I-865. Failure to do so may result in fines of up to $10,000 (though they are usually more in the range of $2,500 – $5,000)
- You may have a limited ability to sponsor other immigrants in the future – if you choose to sponsor another immigrant in the future, you will need to count any immigrants that you are currently sponsoring when calculating your household size. This will increase the level of income that you will need to be eligible to sponsor a new immigrant.
- Your liability may not be relieved by bankruptcy – if you are forced to file for bankruptcy due to financial insolvency, you cannot discharge your financial sponsorship obligation like you can with credit card bills and other debts. The liability for the immigrant will continue until the contract expires when they become a U.S. citizen, work for 40 quarters, or leave the United States.
The good news is that financially sponsoring an immigrant does not include any liability for the immigrant’s personal debts, bills, or other money problems.
If the immigrant incurs substantial medical bills, accumulates debt collection accounts, or has to declare bankruptcy, none of these activities would have any effect on you or your personal credit.
Furthermore, there are still several government assistance programs that sponsored immigrants may qualify for, so he or she isn’t barred from receiving some benefits. Examples of approved government assistance programs include:
- Certain forms of foster-care or adoption assistance under the Social Security Act
- Emergency Medicaid
- Head Start Programs
- Immunizations, testing, and treatment for communicable diseases
- Job Training Partnership Act programs
- Means-tested programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
- Services provided under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts
- Short-term, non-cash emergency relief
- Student assistance under the Higher Education Act and the Public Health Service Act
If the immigrant in question receives benefits from any of these approved programs, doing so would have no impact on you or your contract with USCIS.
What Does “Joint Sponsor” Mean on Affidavit of Support, Form I-864?
If the petitioning sponsor does not meet the income requirements, a joint sponsor who can meet the requirements may submit a Form I-864 to sponsor all or some of the family members of the intending immigrant.
The original sponsor still needs to file Form I-864.
In other words, the joint sponsor is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting your family member with you.
A joint sponsor must be a person and may not be a corporation, organization, or other entity.
If a petitioner or sponsor meets the minimum income requirements, there cannot be a joint sponsor, unless the consular officer or the DHS immigration officer specifically requires it.
Just like the sponsor, the joint sponsor must be:
- A citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence
- At least 18 years of age and
- Domiciled in the United States or its territories and possessions.
However, the joint sponsor does not have to be related to the petitioning sponsor or the intending immigrant.
If the first joint sponsor completes Form I-864 only for a few of the family members of the intending immigrant, a second qualifying joint sponsor can sponsor the remaining family members.
There can be a maximum of two joint sponsors.
Each joint sponsor is responsible only for the intending immigrant listed on his/her Form I-864.
Each joint sponsor must individually meet the income requirements, according to Federal poverty guidelines, for his/her household size, without combining resources with the petitioning sponsor or a second joint sponsor.
Any dependents applying for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status more than six months after the immigration of the intending immigrants must be sponsored by the petitioning sponsor but may be sponsored by an original joint sponsor or a different joint sponsor.
Even if one or more joint sponsors submit their I-864, the petitioning sponsor remains legally accountable for the financial support of the sponsored alien along with the joint sponsor.
Affidavit of Support Joint Sponsor Checklist
The documents required for a joint sponsor are the same as those required of the primary sponsor.
They include the following:
- Proof of income (and assets, if any)
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or green card holder status
- If relevant, Form I-864A completed by each individual who will combine their income and/or assets with the joint sponsors to meet the minimum annual income requirement
What are the obligations of a joint sponsor?
Providing financial support: As a joint sponsor, you are equally responsible as the sponsoring primary sponsor for financially supporting the alien.
You must maintain a minimum annual income of 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for your household size until your obligations end.
Reimbursing the government for the use of public benefits: The purpose of having a financial co-sponsor is to prevent the alien from becoming a public charge.
If the green card holder receives public charge benefits from a federal, state, or local government agency before the joint sponsor’s obligations end, the joint sponsor and the sponsoring spouse may need to repay the amount of those benefits to the agency.
Updating your address: Until the joint sponsor’s obligations end, they must notify USCIS every time they move.
They must provide their new address on Form I-865 (officially called the “Sponsor’s Notice of Change of Address”) within 30 days after relocating.
When will those obligations end?
A joint sponsor’s responsibilities terminate when the green card holder experiences any of the following:
- Becomes a U.S. citizen
- Has worked 40 quarters (10 years) in the United States
- Is no longer a green card holder and has left the United States (known officially as “abandonment of permanent residence”)
- Is deceased
- Is approved for a new green card after being placed in removal (deportation) proceedings
The joint sponsor’s death also ends their obligations.
If they owed any support to the green cardholder before the joint sponsor died, however, the joint sponsor’s estate, if any, may be required to pay those debts.
What happens if the joint sponsor does not fulfill their obligations?
Failure to provide financial support: the green card holder may file a lawsuit against the sponsors to collect the support they need.
Failure to reimburse the government for use of public benefits: the agency that provided these benefits may sue the sponsors to the collection of that money, including collection costs and legal fees.
Failure to update their address: they may be fined between $250 and more than $5,000, depending on whether they simply neglected to update the government or had knowledge that the marriage-based green card holder received public benefits that would need to be repaid to the government.
The New Public Charge and Affidavit of Support
The immigration officer will use the totality of the circumstances while deciding if an immigrant is to become a public charge in the future.
The USCIS officer, while determining the inadmissibility of the public charge grounds, must consider the applicant’s age, health, family status, assets, resources, and financial status, education and skills, prospective immigration status, expected period of admission and sufficiency of the affidavit of support (Form I-864).
The rules identify the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support as one of the “minimum factors to consider” in relation to public charge inadmissibility.
In addition to the evidence already considered in connection to the Form I-864, DHS will now consider the sponsor’s relationship to the applicant and the “likelihood that the sponsor would provide the statutorily-required amount of financial support.
Is a sufficient Form I-864 the only consideration for meeting any public charge issues at the time of the visa interview?
No, consular officers also look at other public charge factors affecting the financial situation of both the financial sponsor(s) and the applicant.
Age, health, education, skills, financial resources and family status of the applicant and the sponsor are factors.
Consular officers will verify to the extent possible that applicants have adequate financial support to prevent them from becoming a public charge in the United States.
Public charge means that someone is primarily dependent on the U.S. government for subsistence.
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