When one spouse helps another immigrate to the U.S. he is require to sign an I-864, Affidavit of Support. The I-864 is a binding legal contract where the sponsor promises to provide financial support to the immigrant. If the sponsor stops providing support to the immigrant, the immigrant can bring a lawsuit.
How much financial support must be provided?
The sponsor promises to provide support equal to 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. This is $14,363 annually ($1,197 per month) for a single individual. The immigrant will be able to collect money from the sponsor only if she does not have another source of income. So if the immigrant is earning $2,000 per month, she will not be able to collect I-864 support from her sponsor.
When does the support start?
A sponsor is required to provide support to an immigrant once the immigrant achieves status as a “lawful permanent resident" (i.e., gets her green card).
When does the support end?
Only five events end the sponsor’s support obligations: when the beneficiary (1) becomes a U.S. citizen; (2) can be credited with 40 quarters of work under the Social Security Act; (3) is no longer a permanent resident and has left the U.S.; (4) after being ordered deported seeks permanent residency based on a different I-864; or (5) dies. Divorce does not end a sponsor’s support duty.
What if I am divorced or getting divorced?
Divorce or legal separation does not end the I-864 support duty. Even if a couple is divorced the sponsor must still provide support. If you are in the process of getting divorced you should make sure your divorce attorney tells the judge about the sponsor’s I-864 support responsibility. This is very important because you might not be able to bring a separate lawsuit.
Where does the immigrant go to sue the sponsor?
The immigrant can bring her lawsuit in any state court of general jurisdiction. Historically immigrants have been successful suing sponsors in federal court. However some federal courts now say that the lawsuits need to be brought in state court.
Is it expensive to sue the sponsor?
No. The I-864 has an “attorney fee provision." This means that if an immigrant successfully sues a sponsor then she can make him pay for all attorney fees. Lawyers may be willing to take these cases on “contingent fees" meaning they get paid only if you win.
If the U.S. spouse does not have sufficient financial resources, the immigration agencies may require addition “joint-sponsors" to sign additional I-864s. These joint sponsors are also responsible for ensuring the immigrant has financial resources. Joint sponsors are what is called “jointly and severally liable," which means the immigrant may choose to collect support from any individual who signed an I-864. If the sponsor refuses to provide support the immigrant may bring a law suit.