The State Department defines an affidavit of support as follows:
The Affidavit of Support is a legal contract between you (the petitioner for an immigrant visa applicant) and the US Government. It ensures that the visa applicant has adequate means of financial support and is unlikely to become a public charge after entering the US.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explains:
This form is a contract between a sponsor and the U.S. Government. Completing and signing this form makes you the sponsor. You must show on this form that you have enough income and/or assets to maintain the intending immigrant(s) and the rest of your household at 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. By signing Form I-864, you are agreeing to use your resources to support the intending immigrant(s) named in this form, if it becomes necessary.
The submission of this form may make the sponsored immigrant ineligible for certain Federal, State, or local means-tested public benefits, because an agency that provides means-tested public benefits will consider your resources and assets as available to the sponsored immigrant in determining his or her eligibility for the program.
If the immigrant sponsored in this affidavit does receive one of the designated Federal, State or local means-tested public benefits, the agency providing the benefit may request that you repay the cost of those benefits. That agency can sue you if the cost of the benefits provided is not repaid.
It works like this. The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (usually the child or spouse of the immigrant) serves as the primary sponsor for the alien beneficiary. In doing so, she promises to reimburse the government for any expenses related to the beneficiary being in the United States. In addition, if the beneficiary were to need such benefits, the government might not provide them and would expect the sponsor to provide. So if, for example, the beneficiary received benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, etc., the government would have the right to come after the sponsor for those benefits.
If someone agreed to be the co-sponsor, they would also be responsible for fronting and/or reimbursing any such benefits. The legal obligations for a sponsor and a co-sponsor are the same.
One thing to keep in mind is that the sponsor’s responsibility for the beneficiary exists until the beneficiary (1) becomes a U.S. citizen or (2) achieves 40 quarters of employment in the U.S. (roughly ten years if they work straight through).
In the end, agreeing to sponsor or co-sponsor a potential immigrant beneficiary is a signficant legal obligation on the part of the sponsor. It is a serious responsibility that may or may not come into play depending upon the beneficiary and what happens in the future. It is not an obligation that should be taken lightly.
We hope this helps explain the legal obligations of an Affidavit of Support. If you need further information, please contact us at (314) 961-8200.