This post coincides with a talk I'm giving at the annual conference of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. If you attended the conference and would like copies of any material referenced in the talk, please use the contact form on this website to get in touch with me.
Immigration attorneys know that the immigration agencies are notoriously picky about the I-864, Affidavit of Support. Small errors (real or perceived) can cause the Form to be rejected, causing lengthy delays in case process. Some of us wondered, "what rule book are these guys playing by?" While the USCIS Adjudicators Field Manual, and State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual are both publicly available, guidelines used by front line adjudicators aren't.
So what to do...
If you're noted immigration attorney, Charles Wheeler you file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and get the inside story. Charles has obtained a 1,899-page response, providing the standard operating procedures (SOP) for how USCIS reviews I-864-series forms. With Charles' permission I'm making those FOIA results available here.
Probably because of the processing time for FOIA requests, the guidelines reference a prior version of the Form I-864. In fact, the Form I-864 will be changing yet again in coming months. But the SOP still provide a helpful window into how the agency reviews these forms.
I've taken a first crack at drafting a checklist for reviewing Form I-864s prior to submission. The checklist is modeled off of the one in the FOIA results (starting at page 28 of Part 1, linked below). With the help of my colleague, Gustavo Cueva, I've tried to update the checklist so it works with the now-current Form I-864. It's definitely a work in process, and comments for improvements are most welcome. You can download the flow chart in Excel for aremat here: 2015_06_19_864 flow chart. Important disclaimer: by using this checklist you agree no attorney/client relationship exists, and agree to exercise independent judgment in preparing and filing the Form.
If you'd like to dive into the FOIA results in detail, here they are. Due to the size they're broken up into smaller parts.