U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support
Certain categories of immigrants must be the beneficiaries of an affidavit of support in order to get a visa. This includes most applicants for family-based visas and certain categories of employment-based immigrants. Understanding what the U.S immigration affidavit is and how it is used by the government will help you execute one successfully. The first question is what is an affidavit of support?
What is the U.S immigration Affidavit of Support?
An affidavit of support is a contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government in which the sponsor promises to provide basic support to the immigrant being sponsored. If an immigrant is required to have the U.S immigration affidavit of support, his or her sponsoring relative must sign the affidavit of support.
Why is a U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support Necessary?
An affidavit of support is necessary to prove that the immigrant will not become a public charge in the United States. A public charge is someone who is dependent on the state for support. The U.S immigration affidavit of support shows that the sponsor will be able to support the immigrant so that he does not become a public charge.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA section 212(a)(4)) an alien is inadmissible to the United States if it appears likely that he or she may become a public charge. The determination of whether a person is likely to become a public charge is a discretionary one. It must take into consideration all circumstances of the immigrant’s life, but especially his or her age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, and education and skills. Under the INA an affidavit of support may also be taken into consideration in making this determination.
Federal regulations (8 CFR section 213a.2) require that most applicants for family-based visas must be the beneficiary of an affidavit of support.
Who Needs the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support?
All family-based immigrants who are immigrating either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or who are immigrating as “preference category” relatives of legal permanent residents in the U.S. must be the beneficiary of the U.S immigration affidavit of support in order to get a visa.
The only employment-based immigrants who must file an affidavit of support are those whose immigrant visa petitions were filed by their U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or U.S. national relatives, or by an entity in which those relatives owned a significant interest (five percent or more).
Who is Exempt from the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support Requirement?
Certain categories of immigrants do not need an affidavit of support. They are:
- Immigrants who have 40 quarters of coverage under the Social Security Act. This means they worked and paid for social security for ten years. The immigrant must have had the legal right to work in the U.S. in order to have his or her quarters of coverage count. If an immigrant was married to someone who worked legally in the U.S. and paid into social security during the marriage, following the norms proposed in the S immigration affidavit of support, he or she can claim credit for those quarters. Also, immigrants who were under 18 years old while their parents were working legally in the U.S. can be credited with those quarters of coverage.
- Children who will automatically become U.S. citizens upon entry to the U.S.
- Self-Petitioners who are immigrating as widows or widowers of U.S. citizens
- Self-Petitioners who have filed form I-360 as an abused spouse.
What are the Qualifications for Filing the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support?
In order to be a qualifying sponsor, the relative must have a certain level of income. His or her income must be equal to 125% of the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level is the level below which people are living in poverty. Each year the government decides how much this is. A sponsoring relative must make enough to support every person in his or her household plus the sponsored immigrant at this level. The table reprinted below shows the 2021 federal poverty level for various household sizes for the regions listed. If the sponsor’s income is at least equal to this level, he can sponsor the U.S immigration affidavit of support. Or the 48 Contiguous States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands:
Sponsor’s Household Size
100% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*
125% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*
For sponsors on active duty in the U.S. armed forces who are petitioning for their spouse or child
For all other sponsors
Add $4,540 for each additional person
Add $5,675 for each additional person
What can be done if the Sponsoring Relative does not Make Enough Money to Sponsor the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support?
In this case, there are a few options. First, the income of every member of the sponsor’s household can be added in. This must be the income as reported on their tax returns. Any person who is at least 18 years old and related to the sponsor by birth, marriage, or adoption can have his or her income counted. This can include the sponsored immigrant himself if he or she meets certain qualifications and his or her income is being earned legally. The household member must then sign a “Contract Between the Sponsor and the Household Member” agreeing that he or she will take financial responsibility under the U.S immigration affidavit of support.
What is a Co-Sponsor?
If all of the household members together still cannot qualify to meet the U.S immigration affidavit of support income requirement, a Co-Sponsor can be found. A Co-Sponsor is someone who does not share the same residence as the sponsoring relative of the immigrant but who is willing to share responsibility on the affidavit of support. Anyone who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, at least 18 years old, and currently residing in the U.S. or a U.S. territory or possession can qualify to be a Co-Sponsor. He or she must have a total income that is equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level for his household size plus the number of immigrants being sponsored.
If your Household Income is not Large Enough and you Cannot Find a Co-Sponsor, are There any Other Options?
In this case, you can try to qualify as a sponsor of the U.S immigration affidavit of support using assets instead of income. To qualify using assets, you must show $5,000 worth of assets for each $1,000 of income you lack. For example, if you have a household of four and you are sponsoring one immigrant you must show an income big enough to support five people at a level equal to 125% of the federal poverty level. In 2021 this level is $38,800 per year. If your total household income is only $28,800 you are $10,000 short of income. Therefore, if you can show assets of $5,000 for every $1,000 of income you lack, or in this case $50,000 you can still qualify as a sponsor. Any asset which can be easily liquidated can be used to qualify. This includes not only cash but cars, houses, life insurance, mutual funds, etc.
If the beneficiary of the affidavit of support is applying based on marriage to a U.S. citizen the sponsor must show only $3,000 of assets for every $1,000 of income he or she lacks.
What Obligations are taken on by Signing the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support?
A person who signs the U.S immigration affidavit of support takes on the obligation of supporting the sponsored immigrant at a level equivalent to 125% of the federal poverty level, which is described above. This includes providing the beneficiary with the basic necessities of life. It also means that if the beneficiary collects any means-tested public benefits the sponsor can be held responsible for paying this money back to the government. If the beneficiary of the affidavit of support collects means-tested government benefits such as Title IX medical benefits, the sponsor of the affidavit of support can be sued for this money. Private parties on the other hand cannot sue the sponsor of the affidavit of support for the debts of the beneficiary. For example, if a beneficiary runs up credit card debt, the credit card company cannot sue the sponsor of the affidavit of support.
What are Means-Tested Public Benefits?
According to the norms under the U.S immigration affidavit of support, means-tested public benefits are government benefits, such as welfare payments, which are given out to poor people based on need. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Title IX medical benefits, and Food Stamps are examples of means-tested public benefits. Social Security Disability and Retirement benefits are not means-tested public benefits. This is because they are given out according to how much the person has paid for social security, not according to need. SSI benefits (Supplemental Security Income Benefits), on the other hand, are means-tested public benefits because these benefits are granted based on need, not on what the person earned or paid into the Social Security system.
Can a Sponsor be Sued Under the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support?
Yes, a sponsor of the U.S immigration affidavit of support can be sued under this contract, but only by the beneficiary of the affidavit of support himself or by the government or a private agency that gives out government benefits. A private entity such as a retail store or a credit card agency cannot sue under the affidavit of support.
For how Long is the U.S Immigration Affidavit of Support in Effect?
The U.S immigration affidavit of support is in effect until one of the following things happen;
- The sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen
- The sponsored immigrant earns 40 quarters of coverage under the Social Security Act. This means working and paying in to social security for 10 years. If the sponsored immigrant is married, the quarters of coverage earned by his or her spouse are also counted. Or,
- The sponsored immigrant permanently returns to his or her country of origin.
So, if your sponsored immigrant relative is not likely to receive means-tested public benefits in the U.S. or fall into poverty, you will have nothing to worry about in signing the U.S immigration affidavit of support. If on the other hand, your relative does receive means-tested public benefits in the U.S. the government or a private agency which gave out these public benefits could collect this money from you. The only private person who has the standing to sue under this affidavit is your ungrateful relative himself, who could conceivably sue for basic support if in fact he or she was destitute.
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