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What is the Obligation of a Sponsor on a USCIS Form I-864, Affidavit of Support?

USCIS's Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) is required whenever someone applies for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or adjustment of status to permanent resident in the United States, based upon a family or spouse petition.  The Affidavit of Support is actually a legal contract between three parties, the beneficiary (the person immigrating), the sponsor (the person who signs the Form)  and the U.S. Government. The Affidavit of Support because a source of concern when and if the immigrant applies to a Federal, State, or local governmental agency for public benefits based on ability to pay, within the time frame covered by the Affidavit of Support.


When you sign an Affidavit of Support as a "sponsor" you are agreeing to provide support to maintain the sponsored person at an annual income that is not less than 125% of the Federal poverty guidelines. 
All sponsors must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are at least 18 years of age and maintain a primary residence in the U.S. If you are the main sponsor and a U.S. citizen, you must be a brother, sister, adult child, parent or spouse of the intended immigrant. However, a "joint sponsor" (someone not related to the family, but is needed because the necessary family member does not make enough money) may be anyone who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting your family member with you. No family relationship is required.
When filing an immigrant petition for multiple family members, the person signing the form as the primary sponsor, AND any joint sponsors may divide responsibility for the intending immigrants. However, the primary sponsor is responsible for all of the people on the petition (for example, minor sons and daughters of your brother who you are sponsoring).

For those people asked to become a joint sponsor, it is very important to understand  they are making a contract with the U.S. Government, and it is a contract that the U.S. government and the foreign national beneficiary is able and willing to enforce. This is a serious commitment.
The obligation as a sponsor begins after the intending immigrant acquires permanent residence, either through entering the country on an immigrant visa or, if they are already in the U.S., by adjusting their status to permanent resident. The obligation can end in one of five different ways:
1) When the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen;
2) When the sponsored immigrant loses or relinquishes his or her permanent residence status;
3) When the sponsored immigrant obtains a new grant of Adjustment of Status in a removal proceeding;
4) When the sponsored immigrant has earned or been credited with 40 qualifying quarters of work under Title II of the Social Security Act; or
5) When the sponsored immigrant dies.
There have been very few cases of either government action or beneficiary action against sponsors  for failing to provide the required support for their relative(s). Given the budget problems of many state and federal agencies, it is surprising that there have not been greater attempts by governments to enforce the Affidavit of Support requirements against sponsors.

The typical case in which we have seen enforcement occur has been in divorce situations. On several occasions a foreign spouse divorces the U.S. spouse, then seeks alimony based upon the Affidavit of Support, to the amount of 125% of poverty level income, until one of the five "terminating events" occurs.
If you file an I-864 in order to immigrate a spouse, separation or divorce will not end the obligation. Termination of your support obligation does not relieve you (or your estate) of any reimbursement obligation for unpaid support before the obligation ended.
When people seek advise on whether to sign an Affidavit of Support for a relative or friend, ask this question:  "Am I willing to support them, always?"  If not, then do not sign the Affidavit of Support.

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