Most people know that a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can sponsor their spouse for a Green Card. But not everyone knows there are some restrictions. One of them is income – the sponsor must meet specific income requirements. The U.S. government requires that you, as the sponsor, are financially responsible for your spouse. This ensures that your spouse will not have to rely on government support to survive. Therefore, the government wants to be sure that as the sponsor, you are in a position to support your spouse if necessary. As a sponsor, you must file form I-864, Affidavit of Support, where you provide your income information and commit to financially supporting your spouse if necessary. While the income requirements are not particularly high, they are out of reach for certain people, especially those who work in minimum wage jobs. Fortunately, sponsors who have trouble meeting these income requirements can use the income of other household members, joint sponsors and assets to meet the minimum financial threshold.
Income requirements for visas are based on three main factors: where you live, the number of people living in your household, and whether or not you are in the military.
Most people must have an income of at least 125% of the poverty level for your household size. The cutoff for poverty level is higher in Alaska and Hawaii than the other 48 states due to the higher cost of living in those states. There is no difference in the definitive poverty level within the contiguous 48 states even though the cost of living in a place like San Francisco is going to be much higher than it would be in a place like rural Mississippi. The minimum income for a household of two people (you and your spouse) in the mainland U.S. is $21,550. That number increases to $24,787 in Hawaii and $26,937 in Alaska. The minimum income requirement is based on the number of people per household, so the minimum amount for a family of eight in the lower 48 is $55,150.
Immigration law makes specific allowances for active-duty members of the military, including income requirements for Green Card sponsors. If you are in the military, you only have to have an income at 100% of the federal poverty level, so the minimum amount drops to $17,240 for a family of two and goes up to $44,120 for a family of eight. As with non-military income requirements, there is a higher income threshold for military sponsors who live in Alaska and Hawaii, at $21,550 and $19,830 respectively.
Your income is counted as whatever amount is considered your “total income” on your income tax return. This amount includes wages, salary, retirement benefits, alimony, child support and income from investments. There are also circumstances where you can count income from other adult household members, joint sponsors outside your household, your spouse’s income and your assets to meet the requirements.
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Income from Other Adult Household Members
If you do not earn enough to sponsor your spouse on your own, you can combine your income with that of other adult household members such as your siblings, parents and children to meet the minimum requirements. However, they must indicate that they are willing to contribute this income to support your spouse if necessary. They do this by filing form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.
Income from Others Outside the Household
Suppose you do not earn enough to sponsor your spouse based on your income, and using other adult household members is not an option. In the case that their income is not enough to qualify or they are unwilling to become sponsors, you can use a joint sponsor. They do not have to be a family member, but they must be either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. They will also have to meet the income requirements on their own. Unlike using income from other household members, you are not allowed to combine your income with that of a joint sponsor to meet minimum income requirements. Joint sponsors must file their I-864 form.
Foreign Income for Requirements
In most cases, income earned abroad cannot be used to meet income requirements. There are some exceptions to this rule. You will be allowed to count foreign income if you can show that you will continue working remotely in the U.S., are planning to be transferred from a company’s foreign to U.S. office, or have accepted a job in the U.S. that meets the minimum requirements.
Another option if you do not meet minimum income requirements is to count your assets or those of other household members. Acceptable assets include your home, car and investments such as stocks, bonds and savings. Assets must be liquid to qualify, meaning that you will be able to convert assets into cash within a year without considerable hardship or financial loss. You can count your spouse’s assets as well, including foreign investments. However, foreign assets must be worth a least five times the amount of the shortfall. For example, you have no additional people in your household, are not in the military and live in the mainland U.S. with an income of $20,000, and your spouse has assets abroad. For them to make up for the income shortfall of $1550, the assets must be worth at least $7750.
New Public Charge Rule
In February 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began implementing the new Public Charge Rule. This rule significantly expanded the public charge definition and factors. With this new definition, DHS is able to use a person’s age, income, education status, previous use of available benefits and other socio-economic factors to assert the fact that a person may become a public charge. Applicants applying for a U.S. green card are now required to file the burdensome form I-944 “Declaration of Self Sufficiency” together with their adjustment of status applications.
Since February 2020 the new Public Charge Rule has been subject to litigation in several Federal courts, and this litigation is still pending (as of Nov. 2020). Currently (Nov. 2020), the public charge rule is implemented by USCIS and form I-944 is required. Nevertheless, the future of it is unknown, and it might be taken down entirely in 2021 by the Biden administration.
Depending on your individual circumstances, meeting the income requirements to sponsor your spouse can be fairly simple or quite complex. A good immigration attorney can help you navigate this process and help you determine the best way to demonstrate that you meet the income requirements if that path is not something readily apparent to you.
At Brudner Law, we have extensive experience helping families navigate the financial sponsorship and other Green Card processes. See how we can assist you with your immigration situation by contacting us here!
Immigration can be a complicated process, which is why our experienced lawyers are dedicated to helping you and your family. Get started with us at Brudner Law.