What Is An "Affidavit Of Support"?
By James A. Bach, Esq.*
*Certified Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law,
State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization
Every legal immigrant to the U.S. must
establish that he or she will not become a "public charge."
That is, the immigrant must establish that he or she has the
resources (income and/or assets) to avoid resorting to
public assistance for support.
Although there is a waiver available for
other grounds of excludability (even criminal grounds),
there is no waiver for an immigrant who is excludable based
on public charge grounds. A person who cannot prove an
ability to avoid means-tested public benefits cannot
An immigrant can establish that ability
by submitting a bond, evidence of his or her own income or
assets, or an Affidavit of Support signed by a "sponsor."
The sponsor must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and
must have sufficient income to support not only his or her
own family but also the immigrant and the immigrantís
The Affidavit of Support is executed on
Form I-864. A full copy of that form and accompanying
instructions can be found by
clicking here. The I-864 is signed before a notary
public, and when filed with the government it creates
significant liabilities and obligations for the sponsor.
Those liabilities and obligations are:
- Payment of all expenses required to maintain the
sponsored immigrant and family at an annual income that is
at least 125% of the Federal poverty line.
- Reimbursement to the government for any means-tested
public benefit provided to the immigrant.
- Payment to the government for the legal fees and other
costs incurred to compel reimbursement.
- Notification to the government of any change of
address within 30 days of moving. There is a civil penalty
of up to $2,000 for failing to provide such notification
(and up to $5,000 if the sponsor has knowledge that the
immigrant received public assistance).
Those obligations continue for the entire
life of the immigrant, and may be cut off only upon
the occurrence of one of the following:
- The immigrant is gainfully employed and does
not receive public assistance for ten years.
- The immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen. An immigrant
normally is eligible to become a U.S. citizen five years
after immigrating (three years if married to a U.S.
- The immigrant departs the U.S. and ceases to be a
lawful permanent resident.
- The immigrant dies.
The sponsor is not only subject to a
lawsuit by the government to obtain reimbursement for
welfare and other benefits, but is also subject to a
lawsuit by the sponsored immigrant to obtain financial
support at a level at least 125% of the
Federal poverty line.
The Affidavit of Support may be enforced
by the sponsored immigrant, and by any entity of the federal
government, any state government, and any political
subdivision of a state (such as a county). Those entities
can seek reimbursement from the sponsor for any
"means-tested public benefit", which can include not only
welfare assistance, but possibly medical assistance as well
(such as that provided under the Medi-Cal program).
The Affidavit of Support could also
create civil and criminal liabilities for fraud, if there
are any intentionally false statements in the Affidavit of
Most applicants who apply for U.S. permanent
residence ("green card") status need a sponsor who is
willing to sign an Affidavit of Support on their behalf.
Often the sponsor is a close family member, or a spouse (who
may have some legal obligation for support in any event).
Immigrants who have demonstrated responsibility and
diligence by completing college, having a steady work history, or
accruing significant assets may not pose much of a risk of later
becoming a public charge. However, signing the Affidavit of
Support should not be done lightly or without a full
understanding of the significant liabilities incurred if the
immigrant later becomes a pauper.