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How long does the I-864 support last?

Support under the Form I-864 lasts until one of the five Terminating Events defined by federal statutes and regulations. Until one of these five events happens, the Form I-864 sponsor is bound by the contract and required to provide support when needed.

1 – Becoming a U.S. citizen.

If a sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, that terminates the support obligation under the Form I-864. No immigrant ever has a legal obligation to become a citizen. For many immigrants – such as those from Japan – becoming a U.S. citizen would mean the loss of their original citizenship. Generally, immigrants can pursue citizenship by filing a N-400 five years after becoming a lawful permanent resident (green card holder); three years in the case of marriage to a U.S. citizen.

2 – 40 quarters of work.

The Form I-864 terminates after the sponsored immigrant has 40 quarters of work as defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Lawyers often say that the I-864 ends after 10 years, but that is simply incorrect. If an immigrant has been working for 10 years she may have earned 40 quarters of work (10 years x 4 quarters per year = 40 quarters) – but that is true only if the individual is working. If the individual is not working, this Terminating Event might never occur.

Calculating quarters of work turns out to be very complicated under the rules used by the SSA. The rule that comes up the most often is that – under some conditions – an individual may be credited with work quarters earned by a spouse. So, for example, it could be possible for an immigrant to hit the 40 quarter mark by earning 20 quarters in her own right, and later receiving credit for 20 quarters from a spouse.

Fortunately, the SSA keeps track of work quarters for us. So to determine how many quarters a particular individual has earned, all she has to do is request a statement from the SSA.

3 – Is no longer a permanent resident and has departed the United States.

The I-864 terminates after an immigrant has lost status as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder). But, this Terminating Event also requires that the immigrant has also departed the United States.

Here is a common example that illustrates this terminating event.

Immigrants who gain status based on a marriage of two years or less become “conditional” permanent residents. Such individuals must file a petition (the Form I-751) at the end of their 2-year conditional residency. If they don’t do that, their residential status is automatically ended. If a marriage is in the process of falling apart around that time, in immigrant may not file the petition in time, and automatically lose her status. But even if this happens, the I-864 Terminating Event has not occurred. As long as the individual remains physically within the United States the I-864 remains in effect. The contract would be terminated only if the individual decided to leave the country.

4 – After being ordered deported seeks permanent residency in deportation proceedings based on a different I-864.

This is a very uncommon Terminating Event that our law firm has never encountered in practice. This Terminating Event would occur if an individual was order removed (i.e., deported), but regained residency based on a new Form I-864. The likely example of this would be if a person obtained an approved family-based petition (Form I-130) while in deportation proceedings, then adjusted status (Form I-485) through the immigration court. In such a situation, the statute says that the previous sponsor is relieved of his responsibility, which effectively transfers to the new sponsor. Again, in practice this is an uncommon occurrence.

5 – Death.

The death of an immigrant terminates a sponsor’s obligation under the Form I-864. Death of the sponsor also ends the contractual obligation, although the sponsor’s estate can be liable for claims up to the time of death.

Nothing other than these five Terminating Events ends a sponsor’s duty under the Form I-864.

The five Terminating Events described above are the only thing that ends a sponsor’s obligation under the Form I-864. Until one of these five events has happened, a sponsor remains liable under the Form I-864. For that reason, these Terminating Events are the only defense that a sponsor is allowed to raise in court. In normal contract law cases, there are a number of “affirmative defenses” that allow a party to back out of a contract. But normal contract defenses do not apply in I-864 litigation.

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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. if there income exceeds 125% are you still liable and if not but in some part of the future can they re- seek spousal support incase of lose of job.

    1. The sponsored immigrant doesn’t have any enforceable right – or more specifically, the contract has not been breached – if their income is at or above 125% of the poverty line.

  2. Would a prenuptial agreement between me and my immigrant fiancé hold up in court (Florida) if in it stipulated that if we divorce or separate, she agrees to leave the country for not less than 18 months and file a I-407 form prior to exiting the country. And for enforcement if she changes her mind, use the same terms that were used in the -I864 form. Meaning that she would pay me 125% of the poverty level for 40 quarters? I would love to hear your feedback on this.

    1. That has not been tested in Florida or any other state to my knowledge. My best guess is that any requirement to force the non-citizen to take a particular course of immigration action is probably unenforceable as being void for public policy purposes. The indemnification provision is a closer call and hasn’t been tested.

  3. What if the immigrant is working and earning money that is equal to or above the federal poverty guideline, but she has not attained 40 quarters-requirement? Is the obligation terminated?

  4. Hello. What is a green card holder files for bankruptcy. How is it possible for joint sponsors to stay out of the situation?

    1. Hi, Diana:
      The only cases on point say that I-864 debt *cannot* be discharged in bankruptcy because it is a “domestic support obligation.” Once Affidavit is executed and becomes enforceable it cannot be withdrawn for any reason.

  5. Is a sponsor who signed a I-864 form responsible for any medical bills of the immigrant such as emergency room or a hospitalization?

    1. Hi, Larissa:
      No, a sponsor has no obligation for hospital or medical bills generally. The only associated liability is for means-tested benefits, such as Medicaid. But a hospital wouldn’t be able to come after you for that normally. If you’ve been approached by a hospital demanding payment under the Affidavit of Support, please call me and let’s chat about that. I’ve heard about this several times in the past week or so.

  6. Hello, when a sponsored immigrant becomes a US citizen, the liability of the sponsor for future expenses or public benefits ends. How about the benefits that were used during the preceding five years? May the sponsor be required to repay them to a government agency AFTER the immigrant becomes a citizen? In other words are they accrued and still a liability or waived/forgiven at that point? Thank you.

  7. And what if a family departs the US, but mother changes her mind and comes back a year later, then wants to bring her kids back >1 <2 years later. They never even waited for their LPR card to arrive, but 1.5 years later they changed their mind. Is the I-864 sponsor still on the hook even they they left with the intention of never returning?

    1. Hi, Sako:
      That is an interesting and uncommon scenario. So long as the sponsored individual did not lose their LPR status, a terminating event will not have occurred. On the facts you describe, CBP could potentially refer the matter as abandonment of LPR status. But if the person was actually able to return to the US, the I-864 would remain enforceable – as it would be if the individual was outside the US and still retained their LPR status.

  8. Greg,
    The I-407 can ONLY be filed after the immigrant has already departed the US, viz, it cannot be filed while in the United States and accepted by immigration.

      1. “Potato/potato; tomato;tomato”? That’s your response to being inaccurate?
        In law, accuracy is everything. It is not up to your interpretation, whatever that might be. Each situation requires a special form or forms and using the wrong one can be disastrous.
        When a client comes to you for help and you give them the wrong advice, will you simply respond as you did here? People’s futures are at stake and the USCIS won’t accept your antiquated song lyrics as a substitute for proper legal acumen.

        1. Again, loss of LPR status plus departure from the US is a terminating event. See 8 C.F.R. § 213a.2(e)(2)(i)(C). That’s as clear as it could possibly be.

    1. Hi, Tom ~

      The regulations are very clear on this point. Loss of LPR status is not a terminating event *unless* the sponsored immigrant departs the United States. Usually, the I-407 is filed by a resident who is leaving the United States. Nonetheless, merely filing the I-407 does not terminate the I-864, unless the individual leaves the U.S.


      1. I have some sponsorship questions my mother is trying to apply for Medicaid and was denied because of sponsorship? When I reached out to my dad he said he was not her sponsor but the health and welfare office when they ran my mom’s name and green card number he came up as sponsor I need help or information on obtaining a lawyer or help on how to file paperwork for my mom to have him removed.

        1. Hm, that’s unusual. If your dad helped your mom get her immigration status there is a 99% chance he was also the sponsor. This could just be him not understanding the term. But she can request her immigration file (get the full “A File”) here for free:


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