How To Prove Domicile In The US When Living Abroad
Over 8 million Americans currently live outside the US. If you’ve met the love of your life in a foreign country, you’ll need to prove domicile before your I-130 (spouse) or I-129F (fiance) petition can be approved. The word domicile means “the place that you live” and is used to determine whether you qualify to be a sponsor.
When it comes to the affidavit of support,you must prove you are domiciled in the United States. If you’ve been living abroad for years and no longer have any financial or residential ties, it’ll be difficult to prove domicile. Even if you have joint sponsor that resides in the US, the primary sponsor (the petitioner) still needs to make their home the US before a spouse or fiance visa can be approved.
The reason USCIS requires the primary sponsor be domiciled in the US is because the affidavit of support is legally binding. They want to make sure they can take you to court if the person you sponsor ends up on government assistance. Think of it as the USCIS covering their own butt!
If you have no evidence of domicile in the US, you can’t be a sponsor on the affidavit of support. You also can’t use a joint sponsor unless you are eligible to be a sponsor.
Check out this chart about American expats and how satisfied they are living abroad. (courtesy Expat Insider)
How To Prove Domicile While Living Abroad
Many US citizens and Lawful Permanent Resident live aboard temporarily whether it’s for work or play. The issue isn’t whether you currently live in another country, but if you maintain ties to the US. LPR must also prove that they are maintaining their green card status as well.
The US requires that green card holders maintain their permanent residence in the US and not another country. This is why they call it “lawful permanent resident” card, right?
Okay, let’s get back to how you can prove domicile while you reside overseas.
Firstly, to qualify as a sponsor or the I-864 or I-134 affidavit of support you must:
- Age – sponsors must be 18 years or older
- Domicile – sponsors country of domicile must be the US
- Citizenship/LPR – sponsors must be US citizens or lawful permanent residents
In order to prove domicile in the United States, you’ll need to convince the consular officer that you left the US temporarily for work or family considerations. Think of it as a temporary stay in a foreign country but you still maintain the US as your permanent home.
Ask yourself these questions when trying to determine your country of domicile:
- Where do you consider your permanent home? How long have you lived there?
- Where do you actually reside? How long have you lived there?
- Do you own or rent your home there?
- Do you pay income tax there?
- What other ties do you have in that county? (Examples: family or organizations)
- Do you own retirement property? Where?
- Where do you have investments?
- Where do you vote? How long have you voted there?
- Are you a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque? Where?
- To what professional and civic organizations do you belong?– What is the location of your bank accounts (checking and savings)?
- Where are your safe deposit boxes located?
- In what jurisdiction have you obtained licenses (driver’s, marriage, professional)?
You must convince the consular officer that you are domiciled in the US with the following evidence:
- Proof of voting record
- Proof of paying US taxes
- Proof of owning property in the US
- Maintaining a bank account in the US
- Maintaining investments in the US
- Proof of having a permanent mailing address
Other helpful evidence that you are domiciled in the US are:
- Proof that you are enrolled as a student abroad
- Evidence that foreign government has authorized a temporary stay
Many of things listed above can easily be maintained as long as you have family or friends in the US that can accept mail on your behalf. Since you are required to file taxes even if you live abroad, showing that you paid your US taxes should be easy.
You can also maintain a US bank account as long as there is a balance in the account. Remember, banks will close any account that has zero balance and no activity.
How To Keep Domicile While Employed Overseas
Moving overseas for a job offer is a little different than moving to another country for the weather. Some types of employment will allow you to maintain domicile in the United States while you work overseas.
Sponsor retain their domicile in the US with the following employment:
- Working for the U.S. government
- Working for an American institution of research – must be recognized by the Secretary of Homeland Security
- Working for a U.S. firm or corporation – company must engage in whole or in part in the development of foreign trade and commerce with the United States, or a subsidiary of such a firm
- Working for a public international organization – US must participate in this organization by treaty or statute
- Working for a religious denomination/group – they must be a bona fide organization within the United States and you are stationed abroad with that religious denomination
- Working as a missionary – by a religious denomination/group or by an interdenominational mission organization within the United States and you are stationed abroad with that religious denomination
The above situations are quite narrow so if you are employed by a foreign company that has nothing to do with the US, you’re unlikely to prove domicile.
Once you prove domicile and the visa is approved for your foreign family member, they will not be able to enter the US without the sponsor entering the country first. The intending immigrant can either travel to the US on the visa with the sponsor (petitioner) or they can wait until the sponsor enters the US first and follow them after.
Final Thoughts on Proving Domicile In The US
In the event that you can’t prove domicile in the US, you will likely need to move back and maintain your residence in your state before petitioning your relative.
Most states require that you are a resident for at least 30 days before you can obtain a drivers license. Universities require that you are a resident in the state for at least a year before you are eligible for in-state tuition. In the case of USCIS, they want to see evidence that you have maintained ties in the US which can include a mortgage or lease, bank accounts, mailing address and paying US taxes.
US consular officers make their decision on whether you have proved domicile on a case-by-case basis. If you don’t intend to live abroad permanently, I’d recommend that you keep as many ties to the US as possible. Don’t close bank accounts, don’t sell property, continue to file income taxes in the US, and vote every four years.
Of course doing all of the above doesn’t guarantee a favorable decision by the consular officer, but it gives you a higher likelihood of a positive outcome.
Ayan is the founder of the Migrant Academy community, the My Path To Citizenship Blog and Podcast.
After successfully navigating the hurdles of US immigration. She now dedicates her time to helping other couples achieve their goals of starting their new life together in the US.