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Form I-864: Mastering US Domicile for Seamless Immigration; A Guide for Expats

December 07, 2023

Living as a U.S. citizen abroad and aiming to return to the United States with a foreign family member involves the intricate task of reestablishing domicile in the US Essentially, the process of aiding a relative's immigration necessitates demonstrating that you are already a resident of the United States. In a typical scenario, a US citizen residing overseas enters into marriage with a foreign spouse. Whether they choose to live in the foreign country for a period or not, the decision to immigrate to the United States arises. The US citizen initiates the immigration process by petitioning the American government through Form I-130, enabling their foreign spouse to apply for an immigrant visa (green card). Theoretically, this process seems straightforward, as the spouse of a U.S. citizen is entitled to a green card. However, the complexity arises when dealing with the associated form – Form I-864, the Affidavit of Support. 

The Need to Sponsor with Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

In the course of applying for an immigrant visa through consular processing or adjusting status within the United States, a family-based green card applicant is required to demonstrate that they are not likely to become a "public charge" in the US. Typically, the grounds of inadmissibility related to public charge can be addressed by the sponsor through the submission of Form I-864, known as the Affidavit of Support, on behalf of the intending immigrant. The Affidavit of Support serves as a binding contract between the sponsor and the US government, wherein the sponsor commits to repaying the government if the intending immigrant were to rely on specific public benefits in the future. 

The Challenge of Reestablishing US Domicile

Form I-864 imposes a crucial requirement on the sponsor, necessitating that they possess US domicile. US domicile, in this context, signifies that the sponsor's principal residence must be situated within the United States, and there is a plan to maintain this principal residence in the US for the foreseeable future. For individuals who have been residing abroad for an extended period, this requirement may appear as a significant hurdle. Disregarding this requirement might result in the petitioner being deemed ineligible to serve as a sponsor for the affidavit of support. The absence of a valid affidavit of support could lead to immigration officials withholding approval for the spouse's green card. Consequently, it becomes imperative to provide evidence indicating an "intention to reestablish US domicile."

Proving U.S. Domicile - Essential Steps

If you, as a US citizen currently residing abroad, wish to submit Form I-864, the Affidavit of Support, with the intention of reestablishing U.S. domicile, you must substantiate your commitment to returning to the United States and making it your permanent home. Your proof should comprise compelling evidence demonstrating the establishment of a domicile in the United States on or before the date of the intending immigrant's admission or adjustment of status. US immigration officials have provided a list of factors that can indicate an intention to reestablish US domicile, including but not limited to:

  • Opening a bank account
  • Transferring funds to the United States
  • Making investments in the United States
  • Accepting a job offer or seeking employment in the United States
  • Registering children in US schools
  • Applying for a Social Security number
  • Voting in local, state, or federal elections
  • Signing a lease or purchasing a primary residence
  • Establishing utility bills, telephone bills, etc. in the sponsor’s name

This list is not exhaustive; sponsors may present other pertinent evidence of their plans to reestablish US domicile. While a single piece of compelling evidence may suffice, providing multiple examples of your intent to reestablish domicile in the US is highly recommended. Additionally, offering evidence of severing similar ties abroad can strengthen your claim of returning to the US, such as:

  • Resigning from your foreign job
  • Closing accounts with foreign institutions
  • Selling assets like a home or other property

Domicile for U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad by U.S. Organizations

In certain scenarios, the need to reestablish US domicile may not be obligatory. Some individuals may sustain US domicile while being employed abroad by a US entity. US citizens residing abroad can maintain their US domicile if they are employed by any of the following US organizations:

  • The US government (including the US Armed Forces, embassies, consular offices, or other agencies)
  • An American institution of research recognized by the Secretary of Homeland Security
  • A US firm or corporation involved, either wholly or partially, in the development of foreign trade and commerce with the United States, or a subsidiary of such a firm or corporation
  • A public international organization in which the United States participates through treaty or statute
  • A religious denomination with a bona fide organization in the United States, provided the overseas employment involves the person's performance of priestly or ministerial functions on behalf of the denomination
  • A religious denomination or interdenominational missionary organization with a bona fide organization in the United States, if the person is exclusively engaged as a missionary.

To substantiate this, the sponsor must furnish a letter from their employer on official letterhead specifying the dates of employment abroad. If applicable, the employer's letter should ideally confirm the continuation of employment upon relocation within the United States.

Temporarily Abroad but Domiciled in the US 

Temporary residents abroad who are U.S. citizens may not be obligated to reestablish US domicile if they can demonstrate the maintenance of domicile in the US while residing abroad. Certain individuals, such as students, contract workers, and volunteers with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have been known to stay abroad for prolonged durations while retaining a primary residence in the United States.

Criteria 

According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(5) (U)), the sponsor must satisfy the consular officer that he or she meets the following criteria to establish that he or she is also maintaining a domicile in the United States: 

• Departed the United States for a limited, and not indefinite, period of time; 

• Intended to maintain a US domicile at the time of departure; and 

• Can present convincing evidence of continued ties to the United States. 

Evidence 

Hence, your supporting documentation should confirm that your visit or project had a clearly defined conclusion, indicating your intention to maintain connections with the United States both during and after your departure. Specifically for individuals like students and contractors, it is crucial to highlight the duration of your project, emphasizing any specified end date, even if extensions occurred. Additionally, you can furnish proof that the length of your stay was restricted by the terms of your visa in the respective country.

Examples of evidence demonstrating your sustained ties to the United States encompass, but are not restricted to:

  • Voting records in the United States
  • IRS transcripts reflecting US tax returns
  • Documentation of US property ownership and maintenance
  • Records of bank, mortgage, or investment accounts maintained in the US
  • Receipts indicating the use of storage facilities in the US
  • Renewal records for a US driver’s license
  • Subscriptions or contributions to US-based organizations
  • Travel records substantiating visits to family and friends in the US

Navigating the intricate landscape of US immigration law requires expertise and precision. At Meimaris Law, we specialize in providing comprehensive legal assistance for individuals facing immigration challenges. If you're a US citizen seeking to bring a family member to the US and need expert guidance on establishing US domicile for Form I-864, our experienced attorneys are ready to assist.

Take the first step toward a successful immigration journey by contacting Meimaris Law. Our team is committed to ensuring a smooth and successful immigration process for you and your loved ones.

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