Heaven Cannot Wait: Five Ways of Terminating the I-864 Affidavit of Support Obligation

One of the requirements for sponsoring a family member to immigrate to the United States as a lawful permanent resident is filing a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The Affidavit of Support is required to overcome the public charge ground of inadmissibility (every intending immigrant to the United States is presumed under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to be likely to become a dependent of the U.S. Government until he or she proves otherwise) and constitutes an agreement between the sponsor and the U.S. Government to support the sponsored immigrant at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for the immigrant's household size. By executing the I-864 the sponsor also agrees to reimburse agencies who provide means-tested benefits to the sponsored immigrant during the period that the Affidavit of Support is enforceable. The Affidavit of Support is designed not only to insure that the immigrant does not fall into poverty, but that he or she will not become a burden on the government.

So how long does the sponsor's legal support obligation last? The obligation of support ends only in the event that the sponsored immigrant (1) naturalizes, i.e. becomes a U.S. citizen, (2) works 40 quarters as defined by the Social Security Act, (3) loses permanent resident status and permanently leaves the United States, (4) obtains a new adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence based on a new Affidavit of Support, or (5) dies.

A rabbi once said that "marriages are made on earth, not in heaven," or words to that effect. So although reaching heaven is one way that the I-864 support obligation can be terminated, divorcing here on earth, while it may provide relief to an unhappy spouse, will not rupture the legal bond made between the sponsor and the government. Federal courts that have weighed in on the subject have also held that divorce does not end the sponsor's Affidavit of Support obligation. The ex-spouse continues to be responsible for the support of the sponsored immigrant until one of the five conditions indicated above has been satisfied.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.

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