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Significance of Poverty Guidelines in Filing Affidavit of Support
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued the annual update of Poverty Guidelines for the year 2006. The HHS poverty guidelines, or percentage multiples of them (such as 125 percent, 150 percent, or 185 percent), are used as an eligibility criterion by a number of federal programs by various Departments such as Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Energy, Labor etc. Some state and local governments also use the federal poverty guidelines in some of their own programs and activities. This article explains the significance of Poverty Guidelines and their importance with respect to Immigration law.

Understanding Poverty Guidelines

There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure:

  • The poverty thresholds, and

  • The poverty guidelines

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure. The thresholds are updated each year by the Census Bureau and are used mainly for statistical purposes — for instance, preparing estimates of the number of Americans in poverty each year.

The poverty guidelines are the other version of the federal poverty measure. They are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for administrative purposes — for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs.

Poverty Guidelines and Immigration

Generally, applicants for a nonimmigrant or an immigrant visa must show that they will not become a public charge while in the U.S. The poverty guidelines are used in calculating levels of income and assets that immigrant visa petitioners and joint sponsors must demonstrate in their I-864, Affidavits of Support.

What is an Affidavit of Support?

The I-864, Affidavit of Support, is a contract between a sponsor, the applicant, and the US government, that is required for all family based immigrant visas and some employment based immigrant visas. In this contract the sponsor agrees to provide financial support for the applicant until he/she becomes an American citizen or can be credited with 40 quarters of work (usually ten years). The sponsor must show that he/she has income equal to or greater than 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for his/her household size.

Who needs an I-864 Affidavit of Support?

The following applicants for immigrant visas need an I-864:

  • All applicants in family-based immigrant visa categories

  • Orphans to be adopted in the United States (IR-4)

  • Applicants for employment-based immigrant visas whose relative filed the immigrant visa petition or whose relative has a five percent or greater ownership interest in the business that filed the petition

What are the income requirements for an Affidavit of Support?

As a sponsor, joint sponsor or a substitute sponsor, you must meet certain income requirements. You must show that your household income is equal to or higher than 125 percent of the U.S. poverty level for your household size. If you, the sponsor, are on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States, and the immigrant you are sponsoring is your spouse or child, your income only needs to equal 100 percent of the U.S. poverty level for your family size.

What does household size mean on the I-864?

Household size means all those living in the sponsor's house or are dependent on the sponsor for support. The household size is:

  • The sponsor

  • All relatives by blood, marriage or adoption living in the sponsor's household

  • All dependents listed on the most recent federal tax forms (IRS 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ), whether or not they live in the sponsor's household

  • Any individuals for whom the sponsor has already signed an I-864 and for whom the contractual obligation still exists

  • The applicant (beneficiary) for the visa

  • The applicant's (beneficiary's) accompanying dependents

For example, if you have a spouse and two children and you want to sponsor your brother and his wife, you must prove that your household income is equal to or higher than 125 percent of the U.S. poverty level for a family of six, or $33,500, from the table below. You must also include in your household size any immigrants you have previously sponsored under this part of the law. In the above example, if you had previously sponsored your parents and your sister, your household size would be nine persons and you would need a household income of 46,250 ($42,000 + $4,250).

What are the Poverty Guidelines for 2006?

The following tables show the Poverty Guidelines for the year 2006. Guidelines vary by family size. In addition, there is one set of figures for the 48 contiguous states and D.C.; one set for Alaska; and one set for Hawaii.

For the 48 Contiguous States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam:
Sponsor's Household Size 100% Poverty Line 125% Poverty Line
2 13,200 16,500
3 16,600 20,750
4 20,000 25,000
5 23,400 29,250
6 26,800 33,500
7 30,200 37,750
8 33,600 42,000
  Add $3,400 for each additional person Add $4,250 for each additional person


2006 Poverty Guidelines for Alaska:
Sponsor's Household Size 100% Poverty Line 125% Poverty Line
2 16,500 20,625
3 20,750 25,937
4 25,000 31,250
5 29,250 36,562
6 33,500 41,875
7 37,750 47,187
8 42,000 52,500
  Add $4,250 for each additional person Add $5,312 for each additional person


2006 Poverty Guidelines for Hawaii:
Sponsor's Household Size 100% Poverty Line 125% Poverty Line
2 15,180 18,975
3 19,090 23,862
4 23,000 28,750
5 26,910 33,637
6 30,820 38,525
7 34,730 43,412
8 38,640 48,300
  Add $3,910 for each additional person Add $4,887 for each additional person

These poverty guidelines remain in effect for use with the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, from March 1, 2006, until new poverty guidelines go into effect in the spring of 2007.

Can assets be included to meet the 125% minimum income requirement?

Yes. The sponsor’s income is counted first. Next the personal assets and/or the income and assets of household members who have signed an I-864A are counted. If, using all of those sources, the minimum income requirement is met, the affidavit would be "sufficient." To be counted, the cash value of assets must equal five times the difference between the sponsor's income and 125 percent of the poverty line for the household size. For example, if you have a family of six, but your income is only $30,000 you are $3,500 short of the required income level. You would need to show assets of at least $17,500 ($3,500 x 5).

What can be used as assets?

Assets can be savings, stocks, bonds and property. They must be easily converted to cash.

If the poverty guidelines change between the time the petitioner signed the I-864 and the issuance of an immigrant visa, must the petitioner/sponsor and joint sponsor, if required, submit a new I-864?

As long as the I-864 was submitted to a consular officer within one year of the date it was signed and notarized, a new I-864 is not required. However, the petitioner/sponsor and the joint sponsor must meet the minimum income requirement based on the federal poverty guidelines in effect on the date of the visa issuance, not those in effect when the form was signed.

Conclusion

As discussed above, an applicant for a nonimmigrant or an immigrant visa must overcome the designation of “public charge” in the U.S. An Affidavit of Support is a significant document that is required in almost all family based green card applications and certain employment based green card applications. One is often confronted with a variety of questions while filing an Affidavit of Support, such as, whether you are eligible to file an Affidavit of Support; which income requirements will apply to your application; whether you need a joint sponsor; whether you can sponsor only the principal applicant and exclude the dependants; whether you satisfy the domicile requirement; and so on.

We at VisaPro have helped various immigrant visa applicants by correctly determining their specific situation and assisting them in the best possible manner to ensure the success of their visa application. We understand that your visa application may be a realization of your dreams to live and work in the U.S. Our experienced Immigration Attorneys take pride in assisting you and effortlessly guiding you through each step of your visa process. Consult a VisaPro attorney to determine the best possible ways of bringing your relative into the U.S.

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