In dollars and cents, this means that you must have stable earnings of at least $16,910 per year for a two-person household (in 2019) to qualify as financial sponsor for a fiancé(e) visa petition, and you must have stable earnings of at least $21,137 per year for a two-person household to qualify as financial sponsor for a permanent residence petition. These are minimums, and meeting them does not guarantee that the petition will not be denied for financial reasons.
You must complete Form I-134 and release your tax returns to prove that your earnings qualify under the applicable standard. The purpose of requiring such intrusive disclosures is to ensure that your fiancé(e) will not need public assistance, such as welfare payments, while in the US.
Which Income Counts as “Stable Earnings”?
Different types of income are treated differently for immigration purposes:
- Your salary counts as earnings as long as it is US-based (see below for a more detailed discussion of the “US-based” requirement), and it counts as stable earnings unless your job is seasonal or temporary.
- Traditional types of earnings that you would report on IRS Form 1040, such as capital gains and interest income, count as earnings, and whether they count as stable depends on their expected duration.
- Unemployment benefits count as earnings, but not as stable earnings, except possibly in combination with a new job.
- Retirement benefits count as stable earnings.
- VA benefits count as stable earnings.
- Social Security retirement benefits count as stable earnings.
- Social security permanent disability benefits count as stable earnings.
- Social security temporary disability benefits count as earnings, but not stable earnings.
- Social security SSI benefits (financial need-based disability benefits) do not count as earnings.
- Welfare benefits do not count as earnings, and receiving them can disqualify you from sponsoring your fiancé(e) at all.
The US-Based Income Requirement
This requirement could cause you big problems if, for example, you meet your fiancé(e) while working overseas and plan to return to the US together. The major exceptions to this rule are US military income, income from a Department of Defense contractor and (sometimes) a temporary overseas assignment by a US-based company.
Sponsor’s Tax Returns
The most important document for determining your financial ability sponsor your fiancé(e) is your most recent year’s IRS tax return. Previous years’ tax returns do help show income stability, however, and some embassies and consulates require sponsors to submit the past three years’ tax returns. You must provide your tax return(s) at the end of case processing, however, not at the beginning.
At present, all US embassies and consulates except the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines allow you to add a joint financial sponsor to your application in order to meet minimum earnings requirements. You might, for example, add one of your parents as a sponsor if you have just graduated from college and your income is low. Although approval under joint sponsorship is possible, all other things being equal it is far better to sponsor your fiancé(e) on your own.
Assets in Lieu of Earnings
Assets cannot be used in place of earnings for a fiancé(e) visa petition. If you can secure a fiancé(e) visa, however, your assets can potentially be used in lieu of earnings when seeking permanent residence for your fiancé(e) after you marry him or her. Even then, your total assets must exceed 300 percent of the minimum annual earnings requirement.
All things considered, it is best to make sure that you qualify under the 125 percent standard before you even submit a fiancé(e) visa application.