By Lupe Lopez
Richard and Micaelina met when they both first started attending school at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). It was easy to see why Richard had fallen in love with Micaelina, an articulate and funny Italian beauty. After two years of dating they decided to get married and begin the immigration process for Micaelina. They had everything in order except one little thing; well, maybe not so little. Being a full time student, Richard did not earn enough money to fulfill the requirements for the Affidavit of Support. They would need a joint sponsor; that is, a person with enough annual earnings or assets to qualify for the affidavit.
Richard had not thought of this. Both he and Micaelina had depended upon student loans and their parents for most of their expenses. Although Micaelina’s parents were well off and could continue to help the young couple, they were foreigners with no legal status in the U.S. thus disqualifying them as joint sponsors. Richard’s parents are hard-working middle class people with other children they need to support. They are not poor, but because they already claim several dependents, they, too, did not qualify. Most of Richard and Micaelina’s friends were students just like them and they did not earn sufficient money to help the young couple. After many months of searching for a suitable sponsor and one who was willing to sign the Affidavit of Support contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government, Richard and Micaelina finally found a person willing to help them.
Richard and Micaelina are not alone. In our constantly busy office, there is not a single week that goes by where we do not run into this same problem. When the Petitioner, in this case Richard, does not earn enough or have enough assets to fulfill the requirements for the Affidavit of Support it can be more difficult than expected to find a joint sponsor.
Most family-based immigrants (immediate family members) must show that they have adequate means of financial support so that they do not become a public charge. By law, the petitioner must sign an I-864 Affidavit of Support and must meet the Poverty Guidelines. The Affidavit of Support is a contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government. It is a serious responsibility and as more people become educated in the seriousness of this contract, it is becoming more difficult for petitioners of intending immigrants to find friends or others willing to take on the responsibility.
When a petitioner or joint sponsor signs the I-864 Affidavit of Support, they are signing a legally binding and enforceable contract. They are promising the U.S. government that the intending immigrant will not become a public charge. What does this mean? The USCIS defines “public charge” as an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”
The USCIS has a detailed fact sheet outlining the types of services for which an alien is permitted to apply. Generally, any “means-tested benefits” such as cash assistance for income maintenance including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and state or local cash assistance programs for income maintenance, often called “general assistance” programs, are considered as being under the definition of “public charge.”
The contract signed by the sponsor and joint sponsor is enforceable for a period of 10 years or until the new immigrant becomes a U.S. Citizen, earns credit for 40 quarters of work history in the U.S., leaves the U.S. permanently, or dies. This means that if Richard and Micaelina ever divorce before the 10 years and Micaelina does not leave the U.S., Richard and his joint sponsor are still bound by the contract.
If you are getting ready to file for a spouse or child, call us to see if you qualify, financially. It’s best to know in advance so that if you require a joint sponsor, you can have one lined up before you begin the process. Many people will wait until after they have filed. Once the paperwork is filed you are given a deadline for providing the joint sponsor’s information. If you miss the deadline, the case is denied and you lose some or all of the processing fees paid to date. We can also give you additional information that may help in getting you qualified as a sponsor. Do you have still have questions about the Affidavit of Support. Call us. We’ll are happy to help.
Special Note Pertaining to Obama Care
Obama Care is not considered a “means-tested” benefit for legal permanent residents and for some applicants for Adjustment of Status. Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), individuals who are “lawfully present” in the United States are eligible for affordable coverage options after January 1, 2014. In July 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defined “lawfully present” for purposes of eligibility for the ACA.
Under the definition of “lawfully present”, Legal Permanent Residents and applicants for Adjustment of Status (those with approved I-130 and some I-140 petitions) are eligible to register for Obama Care. There is no waiting period.
For more information please contact our office.