The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA) provided that a family-based immigrant or an employment-based immigrant (if a relative of the alien is the petitioner or owns significant interest in the petitioning entity) is inadmissible and is likely to become a public charge unless a new affidavit of support is filed. Becoming a public charge is a new ground of inadmissibility for immigrants.
The I-864 is a legally enforceable contract between the sponsor, and the sponsored alien, the Federal, State, and local government, or any other entity, which provides any means-tested public benefit to the sponsored immigrant. There are specific requirements that limit who is eligible to sign the affidavit. However, once the sponsor agrees to sign the Form I-864, the sponsor is bound to a host of obligations.
Who qualifies as the sponsor:
- Family member who filed the visa petition for immigrant
- Family member who owns five percent or more of petitioning for-profit entity
- U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- At least 18 years old
- Domiciled in the U.S.
Sponsor obligated to:
- Demonstrate an income level of 125% of the Federal poverty guidelines
- Reimburse any agency (including private) that has provided means-tested public benefits to the sponsored immigrant
- Notify, under civil penalty, the INS and state in which the sponsored immigrant resides of any change in the sponsor's address within 30 days
This obligation continues indefinitely until the person sponsored:
- Leaves the U.S. permanently
- Becomes a U.S. citizen
- Is credited with 40 employment quarters
If the sponsor cannot meet the required income level based on his or her income, or assets, another person may be a joint sponsor. However, the joint sponsor will be as liable as the principle sponsor and must demonstrate the means to maintain annual income or own assets at 125% of poverty line income for the number of persons in their household plus the sponsored individuals.
To meet the income threshold, the sponsor may rely on not only his or her income but also on income of any individual related to the sponsor by birth, marriage, or adoption and living in the sponsor's residence for the previous six months. This means that if the beneficiary is the spouse of the sponsor and that beneficiary has been residing in the sponsor's household for the last six months, the beneficiary's income can be considered to meet the threshold income of 125% of Federal poverty guidelines. However, if the sponsor will rely on the income of any other household members to meet the threshold income, that member needs to sign a separate document, Form I-864A. An exception to this rule is when the household member providing the additional threshold income is the immigrant who is being sponsored in the affidavit.