Everything you need to know about meeting the income requirement to sponsor your relative.
In all family based green card cases the US Citizen or Permanent Resident who is sponsoring their relative to come to the United States (the “Sponsor) must submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) on their relative’s behalf. The Affidavit of Support confirms that the Sponsor earns enough income to support their relative in the US. The income requirement is usually between $20,000 - $30,000 per year. However if the Sponsor doesn’t earn enough, there are other ways to show that they can support their relative.
An Affidavit of Support is a contract between the Sponsor, the government and the immigrant which assures the government that the Sponsor has enough income so that the immigrant will not fall into poverty and become dependent on public assistance.
The reason for requiring an Affidavit of Support lies in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides that an alien (by which is meant someone who is neither a US citizen nor permanent resident) is inadmissible if the alien is “likely to be public charge”. Under this provision of the law, which is found at INA Section 212(a)(4), someone will be denied a green card or refused an immigrant visa (when applying abroad) if the examining immigration officer or consular officer believes that the alien is likely to fall into poverty. In order to overcome this ground of inadmissibility, all family based immigrants must have a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support submitted on their behalf. The Affidavit of Support must demonstrate that the Sponsor has at least a certain minimum income during the current year.
If you filed an immigrant visa petition for your relative, you must be the Sponsor on the Affidavit of the Support. You must also be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. There is also a requirement to have the United States as your domicile. Usually, this requirement means you must actually live in the United States, or a territory or possession, in order to be a sponsor. However If you live abroad, you may still be eligible to be a Sponsor if you can show that your residence abroad is temporary. As discussed below, the immigration law allows a Co-Sponsor (also called a “Joint Sponsor”) if the Sponsor cannot meet the required income.
To serve as a Sponsor or Co-Sponsor, you must show that your household income is equal to or higher than 125% of the U.S. poverty level for your household size for the current year. Your household size includes you, your dependents, any relatives living with you, the immigrants you are sponsoring, and any immigrant you have previously sponsored (if you are still under an Affidavit of Support obligation with regard to them).
For the soldiers out there, if you, as the Sponsor, are on active duty in the US Armed Forces, and the immigrant you are sponsoring is your spouse or child, your income only needs to equal 100% of the U.S. poverty level for your household size. This lower requirement for members of the military does not apply to Co-Sponsors.
If you cannot meet the minimum income requirements using your earned income, you have various options, including: (a) using the cash value of your assets, (b) counting the income and assets of members of your household who are related to you by birth, marriage, or adoption, or (c) counting the assets of the relatives you are sponsoring and in some cases their income if they are already legally working in the United States.
Assets include money in savings accounts, stocks, bonds, and property. To determine the amount of assets required to qualify, subtract your household income from the minimum income requirement. You must show that the cash value of your assets is at least worth five times this difference (the amount left over). However, if the person being sponsored is a spouse, or son/daughter (who is 18 years or older) of a US citizen, then the cash value of assets must be at least three times the difference between the sponsor’s household income and 125% of the federal poverty guideline for the household. Also, if the person being sponsored is an orphan coming to the United States for adoption, then the adoptive parents’ assets need to equal or exceed the difference between the household income and 125% of the federal poverty line for the household size.
To use the income and assets of your household members, you must have listed them as dependents on your most recent federal tax return or they must have lived with you for the last 6 months. They must also complete a Form I-864A, Contract between Sponsor and Household Member. If the relative you are sponsoring meets these criteria you may include the value of their income and assets.
You may also count the assets of the relatives you are sponsoring. As far as the income of the immigrant, you may include it only if (a) the immigrant is already legally authorized to work in the United States and the immigrant will keep the same job after becoming a permanent resident, and (b) the immigrant is either your spouse or else shares the same principal residence with you. Note that if you are using the immigrant’s income and/or assets, the immigrant does not need to complete Form I-864A unless he or she has accompanying family members.
If none of the above options are enough for you to meet the required income, you must obtain a Joint Sponsor. A Joint Sponsor is a US Citizen or Permanent Resident (green card holder) who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting your family member with you. A Joint Sponsor must meet all the same requirements as you, except the Joint Sponsor does not need to be related to the immigrant. The Joint Sponsor (or the Joint Sponsor and his or her household) must reach the 125% income requirement alone. You cannot combine your income with that of a Joint Sponsor to meet the income requirement.