Form I-864 - Affidavit of Support: The Missing Manual

Form I-864 – Affidavit of Support: The Missing Manual

What is an Affidavit of Support?

Form I-864 – Affidavit of Support is a contract between the US government and green card application sponsor, also known as the petitioner. It states that the sponsor will financially support the applicant if necessary. It is generally required when applying for a family-based green card.

Basically, the US government does not want to grant permanent residence to someone that will require welfare benefits or other forms of public assistance. Instead, the government wants the sponsor to guarantee, by signing the Affidavit of Support, that he/she will provide the necessary financial support. If the sponsor fails to meet these obligations, he/she can be sued both by the US government and the green card beneficiary.

The sponsor can demonstrate the ability to meet these responsibilities in several ways. The most common way is if the sponsor’s current individual annual income can meet the USCIS  minimum income requirement. Alternatively, the sponsor may declare assets such as savings and real estate, or get a joint sponsor. We will explain this in details below.

In rare situations, the applicant does not need to be sponsored. For example, if the applicant has worked in the US for more than 40 quarters (10 years), he/she is exempt. Also, widowers and abuse victims may be exempt, see Form I-864W and Form I-360.

The I-864 is filed with either Form I-485 (when the applicant is in the US already) or the DS-260 (when applying from abroad). It does not cost extra to file, and can be easily completed using the GreenCardHero marriage-green card application software.

What are the minimum income requirements?

The simplest way to support the applicant is if the sponsor’s current individual annual income can meet the minimum income requirements, which is 125% of the Federal Poverty Line. See the table below. If you are a member of the armed forces, your minimum income is only 100% of the Federal Poverty Line. Please see the table here.

Sponsor’s Household Size 48 Contiguous States Alaska Hawaii
2 $21,137 $26,412 $24,325
3 $26,662 $33,325 $30,675
4 $32,187 $40,237 $37,025
5 $37,712 $47,150 $43,375
6 $43,237 $54,062 $49,725
7 $48,762 $60,975 $56,075
8 $54,287 $67,887 $62,425
Each additional $5,525 $6,912 $6,350

The household size starts at 2 in the table above, because both the sponsor and applicant count towards the total. We’ll go over what constitutes a “household” below.

How to calculate the sponsor’s current individual annual income?

The sponsor’s current individual annual income is the total income amount the sponsor expects to report on his/her U.S. Federal income tax return at the end of the current year. This income is called “total income” on IRS Form 1040, or “adjusted gross income” on IRS Form 1040EZ. If the sponsor filed a joint return, include only the sponsor’s own income.

What if the sponsor’s income is below minimum income requirements?

Don’t worry! There are multiple different ways to meet the income requirements of Form I-864 – Affidavit of Support.

The first option is to use income from other members of the household (see how to calculate household size below). Since the applicant is considered part of the household, his/her income counts towards the minimum. (Instr Page 8) That means if the applicant is a spouse, it is sufficient that the couple has enough total income to meet the requirements. Each person adding their income in this way will need to file Form I-864A. The only exception is if the additional income belongs to the applicant, and the applicant is the sponsor’s spouse. See Page 8 of the I-864 instructions for more details.

The second option is to add a joint sponsor. A joint sponsor can be anyone, such as a sponsor’s relative. The joint sponsor will have to complete a separate I864, and will be held to the same responsibilities as the main sponsor. So, make sure that anyone you ask understands the consequences of becoming a joint sponsor!

The third option is to declare assets. The total amount of assets must equal five times the difference between the household income and the minimum income requirements. Further, the USCIS only allows assets that can be sold within one year for cash to be used.

So, for example, if the household is in California with 4 members, the income requirement is $32187 according to the table above. If the sponsor’s income is $22187, 5 x ($32187 – $22187) = $50000 is the minimum value of assets needed to satisfy Form I-864.

What if my income is enough this year, but not enough for the past three years?

It’s OK! Only your expected income for the current year matters. As long as you can reasonably justify for income expectations, what you earned in previous years do not matter to the USCIS. You can justify your expectations, for example, by including a letter from your current employer indicating your annual salary. See also the question “How to calculate the sponsor’s current individual annual income?” above.

Where do I find my income on my tax return?

The USCIS’s definition of “Income” is the “total income” on IRS Form 1040, or “adjusted gross income” on IRS Form 1040EZ.

How do I know my “current individual income” if this year isn’t over yet (Part 6 Question 7)?

Your current individual income is your expected income for the current year. If you haven’t switched jobs since your last tax filing, you can estimate how much you’ll make this year from your salary.  If your income is likely to be different from previous years — for example, you recently got promoted or got a higher paying job — you can use your new salary as your expected income, and include an offer letter or recent pay stubs to back up your expectation

When does the sponsor’s commitment to support the applicant end?

The sponsor’s Affidavit of Support ends when the applicant:

  • Becomes a citizen;
  • Abandons the green card application process;
  • Completes 40 quarters of work;
  • Dies.

Interestingly, divorce does not relieve the sponsor from his/her responsibilities! (See USCIS Form I-864 Instructions Page 13).

What if I can’t find my tax returns from previous years?

You can obtain tax transcripts for no charge from the IRS. It may take up to two weeks, so plan ahead.

How do I calculate household size?

As defined by the Affidavit of Support, the “household” includes:

  • The sponsor him/herself.
  • The sponsor’s spouse, if married. It does not matter where the spouse lives or whether or not the spouse is the applicant.
  • Any unmarried children under 21. It does not matter where they live or whether any of them are applying for a green card.
  • The intending immigrants, if not counted above.
  • Anyone the sponsor claimed as a dependent on last year’s tax return.
  • Anyone else who is being sponsored by the sponsor (from a separate green card application).
  • Any non-dependents living with the sponsor (but only if you used their income!)

You should not double-count anyone (i.e., if you claimed your son as a dependent on your taxes, but you are also sponsoring him, do not count him twice).

Also, the last one is a bit confusing. If there is another member of the household that is not a dependent and not a child, spouse or anything else listed above, he/she does not have to be counted towards the household size (and thus raising the income requirement). However, if the sponsor’s income alone is not sufficient and that ‘other’ person’s income is needed, that person now is counted as a household member.

What if the sponsor lives outside the US?

Sponsors living abroad must meet one of the following conditions:

  • Be employed by an organization that requires you to live abroad. This includes multinational corporations, the US government, and religious missionary work.
  • Be temporarily living abroad for work or school, and plan on returning to the US.
  • Intend to return to the US before the applicant becomes a permanent resident (if the applicant is already in the US) or when the applicant enters the US (if the applicant is applying from abroad).

The USCIS calls this the “domicile requirement”. In this context, “domicile” means the place where the sponsor intends to live for the foreseeable future. The rule exists ostensibly  to make sure that the sponsor is either be living in the US, or has a good reason to be living abroad, so the US government can enforce the terms of the I-864 if needed.

Source: USCIS Form I-864 Instructions Page 5



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