Minimum Income Requirements
The necessary level of income is pegged to the annual poverty level determined yearly by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Sponsors must demonstrate an ability to maintain the intending immigrant and the rest of the sponsor’s household at least 125 percent of the poverty level, except for sponsors who are on active military duty, in which case the financial showing is simply the poverty level.
The federal poverty level is updated yearly (usually in March) by the US Department of Health and Human Services
A higher income showing is required as the size of a household increases. For example, if the sponsor’s household includes not only the foreigner but also others related to the sponsor by birth, marriage, or adoption, the sponsor’s income must be higher to meet the government’s requirements.
To determine the household size, these individuals are included (regardless of their residence):
• intending immigrant spouse (and all accompanying, derivative family members);
• sponsor’s unmarried children under twenty-one, unless emancipated;
• persons whom the sponsor claimed as dependents on the most recent federal tax return;
• any other foreigners who have obtained LPR status based on the sponsor filing a Form I-864, if the prior Affidavit of Support contractual obligation has not yet terminated; and
• any other relatives (i.e., parents, siblings, adult children) residing with the sponsor if the sponsor wants her or his income to be counted to meet the income requirement.
In meeting the financial requirement, sponsors can rely on varied financial sources. If the sponsor’s income alone cannot meet the financial requirements (which is typical with students, retirees, or the unemployed), the intending immigrant will be ineligible for the spousal visa or LPR status, unless the requirement can be met from :
• income from any relatives or dependents living in the household or dependents on the most recent federal tax return who also sign a Form I- 864A;
• income from the intending immigrant (but only if the intending immigrant is living with the sponsor and if the intending immigrant’s income, which must be lawfully earned (i.e., not from unauthorized employment) will come from the same source after immigration. Practically speaking, this means those foreign spouses residing abroad cannot use their income to meet the income threshold, as their foreign employment most likely will not continue. Also, if the intending immigrant is the sole income producer, but that income is through unauthorized employment, it cannot be considered, and other support alternatives must be considered);
• the assets of any household member who signs a Form I-864A, or the assets of the intending immigrant; and
• a joint sponsor whose income/assets is equal to at least 125 percent of the Poverty Guidelines.
In counting income, what counts is current income (i.e., the expected income for this year). Importantly, however, the sponsor need not be employed. Income can come from most lawful sources. Some examples include retirement funds, alimony or child support. Income from “means-tested benefits” cannot be counted.
In tax returns, the Form I-864 requires the submission of the federal tax return for the most recent tax year (and submitting additional tax returns, if doing so would assist in demonstrating enough financial ability, is voluntary). Tax returns from past years serve merely as evidence of the ability to maintain a certain income level. But Form I-864 asks for income figures from the last three years (even if tax returns from all three tax years are not submitted). If significant variations in income from year to year exist at a level close to the required amount, the USCIS’s suspicions will increase. If the sponsor was exempt from tax filing, he or she must submit a written explanation.
In counting assets, if the sponsor is a US citizen, the value of the assets used must be at least three times the shortfall between the sponsor’s income and the required amount. For assets to qualify for consideration, they must be readily convertible into cash (i.e., within one year) without undue hardship to the sponsor or his or her family.
If the primary sponsor does not earn enough or have enough assets, the income and assets of a joint sponsor may also be considered. The joint sponsor need not be related to the intending immigrant. Using a joint sponsor, however, does not obviate the need for a sponsor to submit the Affidavit of Support. The joint sponsor must submit a separate Form I-864, and satisfy the income requirements independently (i.e., it cannot be combined with the income of the petitioning sponsor), although the income from a joint sponsor’s household member can be considered.
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