I am often asked, “What am I liable for if I sign an affidavit of support?” It is a good question and it seems that it is never possible to find the answer in one place so I hope to clarify it.
For purposes of this blog, I will assume you have been asked to sign an affidavit of support known by Form No. I-864. There are other websites including the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov) which discuss when an affidavit of support is required and the difference between Forms I-864 and I-134 (an affidavit of support used for non-immigrants).
An affidavit of support is a contract between the sponsor and the U.S. Government. It is used to prove that the intending immigrant will not become dependent upon the government or become a “public charge.” By signing the form, the sponsor is telling the government that he or she has sufficient resources to support the intending immigrant if necessary. If the immigrant applies for public benefits, the sponsor’s income may be deemed the immigrant’s income and the agency may deny benefits to the immigrant.
If the immigrant sponsored in the affidavit does receive one of the federal, state or local “means-tested” public benefits, the agency providing the benefit may request the sponsor to repay the cost of those benefits. The agency can sue the sponsor if the cost of the benefits is not repaid.
Programs that are federal-means-tested benefits include Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), food stamps, non-emergency Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California), Temporary Assistance For Needy Families “(TANIF) and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (“SCHIP”). In reality, immigrants for whom an affidavit of support has been completed will not be able to access these benefits because when an individual applies for a benefit, the agency will check to see if an affidavit of support has been completed for them.
The affidavit of support is valid until the immigrant has worked 40 qualifying quarters (approximately ten years) or has naturalized (becomes a U.S. Citizen). Divorce does not terminate the sponsor’s liability.
The affidavit is not enforceable between private parties. Thus, if the immigrant buys a new car and then defaults on the car loan, the bank cannot try to seek repayment from the immigrant’s sponsor.
Federal agencies have issued little guidance on “means tested benefits” and it is not clear how a federal agency or a state agency would go about suing an individual for repayment. State agencies are not required to sue sponsors for repayment. There are other programs and circumstances particular to a person’s immigration status that may allow access to public benefits without sponsor liability. Nevertheless, a sponsor should exercise caution before signing an affidavit of support as the government does consider it to be an enforceable contract.