The Affidavit of Support is a central component of any family-based immigration case, but it is little discussed and even less understood. Its contractual language can be intimidating, and many are surprised to learn what is actually required – and for how long you’re on the line once you sign.
Let’s call this document what it is: a contract with the federal government, which makes you responsible for supporting an intending immigrant. Each and every person who submits an immigrant petition for a family member must agree to “sponsor” that intending immigrant using an Affidavit of Support. In many cases, intending immigrants end up needing a “joint” sponsor to file a second Affidavit of Support in order to put enough income on the line to meet federal regulations. If you are being asked to sign an Affidavit of Support for either of these reasons, it’s extremely important that you understand exactly to what you’re agreeing.
“I promise not to let this individual live in poverty, and I will make my own financial resources available to them so that the U.S. government does not have to.”
The government wants to know that you have enough money to do this effectively. When you sign an Affidavit of Support, you must also provide detailed financial information and documentation confirming your household income and assets, as well as your household itself. You’ll then enter into an enforceable contract with the U.S. government which really boils down to 3 major promises: (1) you promise to provide the intending immigrant with any support that they need to avoid living in poverty (as determined by the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household); (2) you promise to keep USCIS aware of your physical address; and (3) you promise to repay the government if the intending immigrant obtains means-tested public benefits.
Does that last one sound confusing? The gist is that if the intending immigrant somehow obtains public benefits to which they’re not legally entitled, and the U.S. government finds out about it, they will come knocking at your door to repay them. Note that this doesn’t apply to public benefits such as emergency Medicaid, some forms of short-term, non-cash emergency relief, and some other forms of public welfare.
It’s just as important to understand what this contract doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that you are responsible for paying all of the intending immigrant’s basic needs. It doesn’t say you must send them cash. It doesn’t say that you must repay private entities if the intending immigrant owes them money. Basically, the government wants assurances that if you are going to bring this person to the United States, the government won’t end up footing the bill.
Now, if all of that sounds fine, just make sure you read the fine print: once you sign the Affidavit of Support, there are only 5 situations in which your contractual obligations end. You are no longer contractually obligated once:
- The intending immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen;
- The intending immigrant can receive credit for 40 quarters of Social Security;
- The intending immigrant leaves the U.S. and no longer has a green card;
- The intending immigrant enters removal proceedings in Immigration Court and obtains a new adjustment of status based on somebody else’s Affidavit of Support, or
- The intending immigrant dies.
Special note: divorce does NOT terminate your contractual obligations!
Given all of these obligations and the potentially long-term nature of the contract, it is extremely important that you understand exactly what you’re signing when you agree to sponsor someone via an Affidavit of Support. In fact, you may want to have your own attorney review the Affidavit with you. Remember that while the intending immigrant’s lawyer has to protect their interests, they probably have no ethical obligations to protect yours, and you may want added assurances that a professional is in your corner.
In sum, the Affidavit of Support is necessary for almost every person who intends to immigrate to the United States via a family-based petition. If you are petitioning to bring your family member to the United States, you’ll have to sign one, so have your finances in order and make sure you’ve discussed the commitment with any household members who contribute to your overall income. If you’re not the petitioner, and you’re asked to sign an Affidavit as a joint sponsor, you have every right to consider the commitment carefully – because it’s a significant one. But you should also remember that this is an excellent opportunity to make a real difference in somebody’s life and enable them to start living their American dream.
 As always, with limited exceptions.
By David Hirson, Esq./Thomson Reuters