A Quick Guide to Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA is a critical document that can make or break an immigrant's green card application.
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by | Last updated Aug 21, 2020 | Published on Jul 7, 2020 | Immigration

Form I-864, Affidavit of Support is a requirement for most family-based and employment-based immigrant petitions, and serves to show that the immigrant has adequate means of financial support and is not likely to become a public charge at any point in the future.

The form is relatively easy to fill out, but also comes with several pitfalls regarding who has to fill it out and what information they have to include.

In this article we’ll outline the basics of this form, but please keep in mind that this is general information and not specific information pertinent to your case.

Always discuss your options with an attorney before you complete and submit your Form I-864.

Form I-864 Basics: What You Need to Know

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Form I-864 is best described as a financial contract in which one person (the U.S. citizen sponsor) pledges to pay back to the government any potential benefits that another person (the immigrant) may apply for and receive in the future.

Put another way, the U.S. citizen sponsor is jointly liable for paying back any public benefits given to the immigrant, and generally agrees to financially support the immigrant should they find themselves in need of assistance.

As a conceptual example, a relatively equivalent scenario would be if your sibling cosigned on your mortgage.

While your sibling may not have to pay your mortgage in this scenario, the bank would feel safer lending you the money if they have a second party to collect from should something go wrong.

The same is generally true for immigrants who need a U.S. citizen to file Form I-864 for them.

As such, Form I-864 carries a series of requirements for the U.S. citizen sponsor, such as the fact that they must have enough income and assets to support their current household, plus the immigrant they are signing the I-864 for, at 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

The Basic Purpose of Form I-864

As we mentioned above, the basic purpose of Form I-864 is to show that certain family-based and employment-based immigrants have adequate means of financial support and are not likely to become a public charge.

The form does this by showing that the immigrant has a U.S. citizen sponsor who is financially capable of assisting the immigrant should they fall on hard times.

Put another way, the form shows that the immigrant has someone to rely on instead of the U.S. government should they need any form of financial assistance.

Further, the form states that the U.S. citizen is jointly responsible for any benefits paid out to the immigrant in the event the immigrant applies for and receives any form of public benefits from a Federal, state, or local government agency.

Who Needs to Submit Form I-864?

Only certain immigrants are required by law to submit Form I-864 alongside their green card petitions.

As noted in the instructions to the form, these immigrants generally fall under one of three categories:

  • All immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are applying for permanent residency on the basis of this relationship.
  • All family-based preference immigrants who are applying for permanent residency on the basis of this relationship.
  • All employment-based preference immigrants in cases where 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 (5% or more) in the entity that filed the petition (i.e. in cases where a business owned in part by your relative is sponsoring your employment-based green card).

Only immigrants who fall under these categories must submit Form I-864 as a part of the green card application process.

Sponsorship Explained: What You Should Expect

There are several qualifications for being a sponsor, but the financial aspect is the most important.

Basically, the U.S. citizen petitioner must have assets and income sufficient to support their own household at a level equivalent to 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

While these guidelines change each year, you can easily check the current numbers that USCIS is using by looking at Form I-864P, HHS Poverty Guidelines for Affidavit of Support.

For example, if the head of a single-earner household of 3 people wants to sponsor an immigrant’s green card, these guidelines state that the single-earner must make at least $27,150 per year to account for the three members of their household.

Note, however, that this doesn’t mean USCIS or DHS will immediately accept such an application.

Instead, this is simply the minimum possible income threshold that they will accept from a sponsor and their household.

Note as well that you can supplement this number with certain assets such as stocks, property, and liquid funds so as to meet the required level of financial support.

If the petitioner/sponsor does not have enough income to support the applicants they can also ask a joint sponsor to file another Form I-864.

If that joint sponsor is married and files a joint tax return, their spouse must also file Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.

This is especially common in households where the U.S. citizen sponsor has their spouse co-sponsor the immigrant’s application either (1) as a way of meeting the minimum income requirement, or (2) because they filed their taxes jointly with their spouse and thus must include this additional contract with their own Form I-864.

Beyond these financial qualifications, all sponsors and joint sponsors must be at least 18 years or older, must be U.S. citizens (or, in some cases, permanent residents), and must be currently living in the United States.

Finally, please remember that the contractual element of your Form I-864 will only expire under certain conditions, including, but not limited to:

  • The immigrant becoming a U.S. citizen.
  • The immigrant logging 40 quarters (10 years) of labor towards social security.
  • The immigrant passing away.
  • The immigrant leaving the U.S. permanently, or with the intention of permanently leaving the country.

As you can see from these examples, Form I-864 is very much a long-term affair.

For this reason, you should carefully consider the implications of this document before you submit anything to USCIS or DHS, preferably after talking the matter over with an attorney.

You should know that enforcement of the I-864 contract—actually requiring a U.S. citizen to pay for the cost of benefits received by an immigrant—has been virtually non-existent.

However, the Trump administration has indicated that they are likely to enforce this provision of form I-864 moving forward.

How to Complete and Submit Form I-864

Generally speaking, filling out Form I-864 is easy, it’s deciding if you should that’s the difficult part.

The form itself comes with several pages of detailed instructions for how you should complete certain parts, so as long as you follow these instructions you should be fine.

Note that Form I-864 will ask several questions about you, your finances, and the immigrant you’re sponsoring, and that you should have various documents and other pieces of information ready and available for when you complete this form.

For example, the main USCIS page for Form I-864 includes a detailed list of required evidence that you should gather before you fill out your form.

This list includes documents such as a copy of your federal tax return, evidence of other reported income, pay stubs, and/or a letter from your employer, among other required and optional evidence.

Additionally, if you use any assets or property to supplement your income you should collect information about these assets and pieces of property, such as banking or investment account statements, local real estate tax appraisals, and information about the principal immigrant’s finances (should you want to include their assets and property as well).

As a practical matter, a simple form I-864 can be submitted with a tax transcript of only the previous year’s tax returns.

Once you’re done, you should give the completed form and supporting documents to the immigrant you are sponsoring (or their attorney) so they can add it to their application.

Conclusion

Form I-864 is an important part of many immigration applications.

Put simply, it establishes a source of financial support for people who want to immigrate to the United States, thus helping these immigrants prove that they are unlikely to become a public charge at any point in the future.

If you have any questions about Form I-864 please speak with an immigration attorney immediately.

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Jacob Tingen

Jacob graduated from the University of Richmond School of Law and was accepted to the Virginia Bar in 2012. Less than 30 days after being admitted to the bar, Jacob launched his own legal practice. Read More.

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