I-864, Affidavit of Support
May 15, 2009 3:00 PM   Subscribe

My sister is marrying a man from Mongolia and wants me to be his sponsor for immigration purposes. What are the risks?

My sister and I live in the US. She is not sponsoring him because her income is too low (she works part time and is a student). She assures me that it will never come to the point where I actually need to support him financially, but I am not convinced it is without risk.

I see all kinds of red flags here. I would only do this out of loyalty to my sister. As a couple they are frugal, but my sister's student debt is high and chosen career path is not very lucrative.

What are some of the risks? What are the edge cases of "sufficient support", and have you heard horror stories resulting from sponsorship? How do I establish a healthy relationship with them if I do sponsor (i.e. defining my involvement with their financials)?
posted by degrees_of_freedom to Law & Government (15 answers total)
I don't think I understand -- are you sponsoring him for employment? If not, how are you financially obligated for sponsorship? (wouldn't he be eligible for citizenship by virtue of being married?)
posted by puckish at 3:15 PM on May 15, 2009

I'm not familiar with this notion of sponsorship for citizenship, but I don't think you should sign any piece of paper saying your responsible for possible medical expenses. I think there are notions of sponsorship for merely visiting, which isn't so problematic.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:29 PM on May 15, 2009

You sound like you really want to support your sister, which is great, but maybe your support should start with paying for a visit to a U.S. immigration lawyer (with at least you and her present) to discuss options. They'll surely be able to lay out your liabilities, risks, etc., and as a bonus might be able to offer a better idea that doesn't involve you getting directly entangled.
posted by No-sword at 3:41 PM on May 15, 2009

Your sister can still sponsor him to immigrate here (I'm assuming she's filing the I-129 fiance petition), because you're not eligible to do so.

When it comes to the Affidavit of Support, however, she can fill out the I-864 and then have you be her joint sponsor. You'll then fill out your own I-864 (or an I-864A, if you and her sister live in the same residence). You just need to prove that you have the means to support him while he's here so that he won't be a public charge (the USCIS isn't going to ask for on-going proof that you actually are paying for things). I really don't think there's anything you should be too worried about.

(my family has an immigration law firm, and I've worked there part-time for a number of years--I have yet to hear any horror stories from people who were merely joint financial sponsors)
posted by blithecatpie at 3:42 PM on May 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

I googled the form (I-864 Affidavit of Support). It very clearly states that by signing it, you are signing a contract with the US government to provide support for the immigrant. The immigrant becomes ineligible for public benefits (e.g. welfare) because you've agreed to provide your income. Your sister may assure you that it never comes to this, but she can't actually say that with certainty. If they do wind up being broke, your sister may have no choice but to ask you for help since welfare is not an option, and you may have no choice but to comply (or be sued and compelled to comply).

I recently watched a non-profit I used to be involved in go through a big shitstorm. The board of directors and staff are all friends; the board signed up knowing they would be legally liable for the behavior of the organization, but the vibe was very much "don't worry, we just need someone to sign the paper, you won't REALLY be liable". Well, there's been an HR incident and in-fighting, and guess who has to clean up the mess, and guess who gets letters from the lawyers once they get involved, and guess who's going to have to pay for it all if it goes that far? The people who signed the paper. Friendships are pushed aside when times get desperate; nobody wants it to happen, but people are sometimes forced to act in their own best interest. You and your sister have to acknowledge that she is asking you to be legally liable for her husband's support and you are accepting that responsibility. Despite what you hope happens in the ideal case, this is a real commitment and not just a formality.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:44 PM on May 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

The law is 8 USC § 1183a, requirements for sponsor's affidavit of support. A copy of it is here

What's happening is the new husband is eligible for a visa by marrying a US citizen, but they are so poor that it is possible the new husband will become a public charge. This makes him excludable under 8 USC 1182(a)(4), which means that he won't get a visa.

One way around this is to file an Affidavit of Support. You're essentially getting on board with your sister--this is why you're called a "joint sponsor." In this affidavit you need to prove that you make 125% of the federal poverty line. You don't give your sister money or have to pay for them up-front, but the risk is this: If the husband takes any means-tested public benefit, the government (fed, state, or local) will compel you to pay for that benefit. So, if he accepts $12K in Medicare, you pay $12K. You're off the hook when he naturalizes as a citizen (ie, after 5 years as a LPR) or when he or his spouse works for 40 qualifying quarters. The nuts and bolts of all this is in the link above.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 3:52 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

degrees_of_freedom clearly states that she is being asked to file an I-864 Affidavit of Support. Without meaning to be any snarkier than I have to be, if you are unfamiliar with what the I-864 is for or with the broad strokes of the immigration process, you are probably not offering useful help.

Sponsorship basically means:

If he goes on certain kinds of means-tested assistance during the sponsorship period (40 work quarters or citizenship), the federal government can come after you for the money.

It would not normally mean that they can sue you for support as a practical matter. If for no other reason, if they had the resources to retain a lawyer that would almost by definition mean that they were above the 125%-poverty line.

There is nonzero but low risk to you.

You do not need to have any immediate involvement with their financials.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2009

when he naturalizes as a citizen (ie, after 5 years as a LPR)

3 years, as he would be an LPR through marriage.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2009

ack, sorry ROU_Xenophobe is right, 3 years. Mea culpa!
posted by lockestockbarrel at 4:12 PM on May 15, 2009

My sister sponsored her husband a few years back. She was told in no uncertain terms that even if they divorce, if he takes advantage of any government poverty benefits, she would be responsible for reimbursing the state for the costs of those benefits.

If you do decide to do this, you need to do it without reservation. You should not be involved at all in the couple's finances once they are married. Make a decision at the outset about whether you trust your sister (and her fiance) to be responsible and about whether you're willing to take the risk of being responsible if something goes wrong, and then that's the extent of your involvement. You don't get to second-guess or control their financial decisions on an ongoing basis once you've decided to help.
posted by decathecting at 7:20 PM on May 15, 2009

I was asked to do this for a friend who wanted to marry an American. I researched it and my understanding is the same as what PercussivePaul, lockestockbarrel and ROU_Xenophobe state above.

I refused, because the friend had a history of financial irresponsibility, and because I was moving in with my then-boyfriend (now-husband), so if it fell on me to support him, my husband would have also been affected. Are you married? Do you have kids? I would definitely not do this unless you have the resources to support your family in addition to your sister's.

Is the man able to work? My friend was already here on a H1B, so he was employed when he met his wife. I don't know how it works if the immigrant is unemployed at the time of marriage; can he get a job right away? Is he qualified for jobs that pay a decent wage? Obviously, the economy sucks ass right now, and anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that they are cutting work visas left and right.

I am naturally fiscally conservative and untrusting of people, so YMMV.
posted by desjardins at 10:55 PM on May 15, 2009

Different tack: do you have parents? If so, could you discuss this with them? If something were to happen and you were to become responsible for the husband's support, then they might end up in the middle. I'm assuming they know your sister's fiance well enough to give an unbiased opinion. Before you say yes to your sister, think of the worst thing that could happen. It most likely won't, but it's a good gut check.
posted by x46 at 12:02 AM on May 16, 2009

I am not convinced it is without risk.

It is not without risk. You're probably in a better position than we are to figure out how likely they are to be able to support themselves without public assistance. If they can't, well, that's basically the risk you're taking on.

(wouldn't he be eligible for citizenship by virtue of being married?)

Oh, if only it worked that way. It is almost never that simple.
posted by oaf at 6:09 AM on May 16, 2009

Not to further rain on the parade, but this story of a woman who sponsored her new husband into Canada pops into my head. Within a few weeks of landing, he ditched her, and she's financially on the hook for any welfare & healthcare(?) costs for three years.
posted by Decimask at 8:06 AM on May 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the great advice.

Without going into the litany, the Red Flags I alluded to are substantial. If I were to spell them out, I expect the consensus would be that I should not go forward with the sponsorship, both for financial reasons and because I doubt that I could do it without resentment.

My gut , my brain are wary. The only, only reason is my sister, who has sacrificed a great deal to bring her fiance back to the states, and I am the only real option for sponsorship. I would go into this with the assumption that they might live with us at some time, or that they might need a few hundred bucks here and there.

So while I've come to terms with the possibility that I might need to support them, I don't want to sign up for liability above and beyond that. I wouldn't be held responsible for Emergency Medicaid, and it doesn't look like someone can come after me in the event that he is sued. Catastrophic medical emergencies and getting sued were the two most costly cases I could think of (with divorce and triplets behind that). The "soft" risks are things like feeling helpless/worrisome if they made poor financial decisions.

It doesn't seem like anyone has heard of fringe cases outside of the apparent definition - pay back some government services if they are used, or pay to keep them from using the government services.

Thank you so much for your input, and if you think of anything, please keep posting!
posted by degrees_of_freedom at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2009

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