The I-864 is a binding legal contract between you and the United States government. By signing the document you make two distinct promises. First, you promise to ensure that the intending immigrant has income at a level equivalent to 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. A table showing that income level is available on the Form I-864P, which may be found at http://www.uscis.gov/i-864p. Note that the levels are slightly higher for individuals residing in Alaska or Hawaii. The guidelines are adjusted each year.
Second, you promise to repay the government for the cost of any “federally funded, means-tested public benefits” paid to the intending immigrant. These include such programs as Medicaid and TANF (cash assistance), but does not include general medical care, such as emergency room visits.
If you elect to sign the I-864 you are required to update the U.S. government of any address change. Within 30 days of changing address you must file an I-865 form, available for download at http://www.uscis.gov/i-865.
Regarding the first promise, if the intending immigrant’s income level falls below the required level, you are responsible for providing support to make up the difference. The intending immigrant has the legal ability to sue you in court if you do not maintain support. If there are multiple I-864 sponsors the intending immigrant has the ability to sue any one or all of these sponsors. Take this liability very seriously. I-864 sponsors have been successfully sued many times across the country.
Regarding the second promise, if the intending immigrant receives public benefits you can be sued by a government agency for the cost of those benefits. Generally it is uncommon for agencies to take this step. However agencies do have the legal ability to take this step if they choose to.
In the event you are sued by the intending immigrant or by the government, you would be responsible for paying the costs of the lawsuit and for the attorney fees incurred by the intending immigrant.
You receive no legal benefit by signing the I-864. Many people sign joint sponsor I-864s to assist their friends and family with immigration, and most of these individuals will never suffer financially for having done so. Intending immigrants frequently get joint sponsor I-864s from their friends and family. But you need to weigh your desire to help with the very real financial obligations of executing this document.
How long do the responsibilities last?
Your obligations continue until the first of these five events occur: the intending immigrant
- becomes a U.S. citizen;
- can be credited with 40 quarters of work;
- is no longer a permanent resident and has departed the U.S.;
- after being ordered removed seeks permanent residency based on a different I-864; or
The intending immigrant’s divorce from the petitioner does not end a sponsor’s obligations. It is conceivable that no terminating event would ever occur, so it is possible that your obligations could last for the duration of the immigrant’s life. The intending immigrant can choose to seek citizenship in as little as three years, but immigrants are not required to become citizens if they choose not to.