One of the U.S. government's concerns with regard to family-based immigration is whether the new immigrants will have enough financial backup to live in the U.S. without needing help from the government.
With that in mind, part of the required paperwork involved when a U.S. sponsor petitions for an immigrant is USCIS Form I-864, or the "Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act." This form contains the U.S. sponsor's promise to financially support an immigrant who cannot support him- or herself or family, or to pay the government back if the immigrant actually receives need-based public assistance (often called welfare). The form is essentially a contract between a family member petitioning for and sponsoring an immigrant and the U.S. government.
Although all sponsors must prepare and sign the form, it won't always be enough by itself. The sponsoring relative in the U.S. must be able to show a specific level of financial capacity: namely that he or she has income or assets that reach at least 125% of the federal Poverty Guidelines levels for a family of the appropriate size.
This includes everyone living in the sponsor's household as as well as the primary immigrant and his or her spouse or children if they are immigrating at the same time. The percentage drops to 100% for families living in Alaska or Hawaii.
Each year, the U.S. government updates its Poverty Guidelines. The chart provides the details on dollar amount requirements, based on the number of people in the sponsor’s household and the number of family members immigrating. You don't have to calculate the 125% amount yourself, but can look on the chart published by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form I-864P. (Also, the amounts are different for residents of Alaska and Hawaii.)
For example, in 2019, a sponsor would need to have income (or assets) of at least $32,187 to cover a petitioner who lives alone and is sponsoring one immigrant and two children (that is, a total of four people).
This amount can be shown through income alone, or through a combination of income and assets. The assets, however, must be readily convertible to cash within one year, without great hardship or financial loss to their owner. In other words, if the asset is the petitioner's sole retirement account and cashing it out will involve huge financial penalties, it might not be counted. But a house can be counted as an asset.
Also important to realize is that assets will not be counted at their full value. Most petitioners will have to divide their value by five. U.S. citizens sponsoring a spouse or minor children can divide by three.
What if you are the primary petitioner and your income doesn't meet the required levels to sponsor the immigrants? You still have to file Form I-864. But you will have to look for ways to augment the amount of support available to the immigrant.
The main ways to do this include relying on the assets of the immigrant, or on his or her income if the immigrant is already living in the U.S. and employed in a job that will continue after getting the green card; getting an income-earning member of the petitioner's household to agree to include his or her income in the mix, by signing Form I-864A; or by getting a joint sponsor, with enough income to support his or her own household plus the immigrants, who fills out and signs and additional Form I-864.
For more on this issue as it relates to the immigrant's application, as well as some exceptions, see this page on financial support an family-based immigrant will need.
The sponsoring relative (and any joint sponsors or household members) must:
This U.S. domicile requirement can create issues if the sponsor already lives overseas. For example, what if the sponsor is a U.S. citizen who was living abroad, then met someone he or she wanted to marry? Getting a green card for that person would require filling out Form I-864; but the sponsor isn't eligible to serve in this role if not living in the United States.
One way to deal with this is for the sponsor to show the immigration authorities that he or she is living abroad only temporarily, and never intended to give up U.S. domicile. This will be easier if the sponsor is abroad because of work for the U.S. government, with a U.S. church (in a missionary or other role) or with a U.S. company that is developing foreign trade with the country where the sponsor lives.
The Affidavit of Support can be confusing, and you'll need to include proper documentation to back up your claimed income and assets. An experienced immigration attorney can help you assess what the immigrant(s) and sponsor(s) will need as evidence to meet the requirements.