While you can’t petition for a friend’s immigrant visa or Green Card (only family members can do that), you can financially sponsor a friend’s immigration petition with Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. If your friend is applying for an immigrant visa, you should file Form I-864 when your friend has scheduled an interview with a consular officer at the US Embassy or Consulate. If your friend is already in the United States and needs you to sponsor them for an adjustment to permanent resident status (aka a Green Card), you may file Form I-864 when they submit their application for an adjustment of status.
However, before you commit to financially sponsoring your friend’s immigration petition, you should understand exactly what it is that you’re committing to. As a financial sponsor, you guarantee that the immigrant will receive enough financial support from their own employment and your financial aid that they will not become a public charge. If your friend receives any benefits from a means-tested government assistance program, you will be liable for fines and/or a civil lawsuit to repay the US Government. This commitment lasts until the immigrant becomes a naturalized US citizen or pays into Social Security for 40 quarters (usually 10 years), whichever comes first.
The good news is that your financial liability ends with government assistance programs. Contrary to popular opinion, you are not liable for your immigrant friend’s personal debt, credit cards, or medical bills. As long as you ensure that he or she is not on the receiving end of means-tested government assistance programs, you are safe.
Federal Means-Tested Public Benefits
Generally speaking, immigrants are prohibited from receiving aid from any of the following means-tested public benefit programs. Participation in one of these programs will result in a direct liability to the sponsoring family member or friend.
- Food stamps
- State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Excluded Government Assistance Programs
Not all government assistance programs are off-limits to immigrants. Your immigrant friend is welcome to accept assistance from any of the following programs without any liability to you (their sponsor):
- 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
While anyone is welcome to financially sponsor an immigrant, there are some basic income requirements that a sponsor must meet in order to be considered eligible for sponsorship. Notably, your household income must be greater than 125% of the US poverty level for your household size. In conjunction with the US Department of Health & Human Services, USCIS has issued the following guidance on the matter:
- Household of 2 – $20,575
- Household of 3 – $25,975
- Household of 4 – $31,375
- Household of 5 – $36,775
- Household of 6 – $42,175
- Household of 7 – $47,575
- Household of 8 – $52,975
- For each additional household member, add $5,400
In this case, your household includes yourself, your dependents, any relatives living with you, and any immigrants that you are sponsoring. For example, if you and your spouse live alone with no children, your household would include three people. If your parents move into your basement, your household size would increase to five.
Financial sponsors who are on active duty in the US Armed Forces are granted a little extra leeway. Instead of placing a 25% premium on the US poverty line, active duty sponsors would only need to present income that is equal to the US poverty level for their household size (i.e. 100% of the US poverty level).
How to File an Affidavit of Support
After you complete Form I-864, sign the form in the presence of a notary public to have the affidavit notarized. Next, print a copy of your most recent federal income tax return and W-2 to verify your annual income and provide proof of employment. To strengthen your case, you’re welcome to include up to three years of tax returns, six months of pay stubs, and a letter from your employer.
Depending on your situation, you may need to include one or more of the following supporting documents:
- If you are self-employed, include a copy of your Schedule C, D, E, or F, from your most recent federal income tax return
- If you are on active duty in the US Armed Forces or US Coast Guard and relying on the adjusted requirement for 100% of the US poverty line, include proof of your active military status
- If you are using the income of other household members, complete a separate Form I-864A for each person
- If you are using the income of household members who are not listed as dependents on your federal income tax return, include proof of that person’s residency in your household, and proof of their relationship to you
- If the immigrant is a joint-sponsor for their own petition, include proof that his or her current employment will continue from the same source
- If you are relying on the fair market value of personal or household assets to qualify, include documentation of ownership, location, date of acquisition, and value. If there is a lien or other liability against the asset, include evidence of the lien or liability
- If you are a US citizen, include proof of your citizenship status (birth certificate, naturalization certificate, passport)
- If you are a lawful permanent resident (Green Card), include a copy of both sides of your Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card
When your sponsorship packet is complete, deliver the packet to your immigrant friend. If they are outside of the United States and applying for an immigrant visa, they will submit the packet to the US Embassy or Consulate where they will be completing their visa interview. If they are in the United States and applying for an adjustment of status, they can submit your affidavit with their application packet.
Call our Immigration team at(480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.
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