Eligibility Requirements to Sponsor an Immigrant
Your income becomes available for an immigrant when you take on the legal responsibility to sponsor them. Before the Memorandum on Enforcing the Legal Responsibilities of Sponsors of Aliens, immigrants have been accessing some means-tested public benefits meant for US nationals and permanent residents.
Since the memorandum cut off their access, it means that you, as a sponsor, must be ready to provide financial support to the person based on your own income. You become a sponsor when you file an immigrant visa petition. You can do this with a family-based green card. To sponsor a relative, you must meet the following conditions:
- At least 18 years old
- A US national or permanent resident
- An active resident in the US or a US territory or possession
If you currently live outside the US, the domiciliary requirement may pose a challenge since you need to reside in the country to file form I-864. However, you can handle the situation by persuading relevant authorities that you are living abroad temporarily and do not intend to give up US domicile. This is easier to achieve if you currently live abroad due to economic reasons (as a worker for the US government or a multinational company) or social reasons (as a church volunteer or missionary).
- Eligibility Requirements to Sponsor an Immigrant
- Affidavit of Support
- Minimum Income Requirements for a Financial Sponsor
- Sources of Income that Count
- How Assets Help to Meet Financial Obligations
- When Sponsor’s Income is Low
- When Does a Sponsor’s Financial Responsibility End?
- Risks of Sponsoring an Immigrant
- How to Sponsor an Immigrant that is a Non-Family Member
- How Can IAS Help?
Joint sponsorship occurs when an additional person cooperates with you to sponsor an immigrant. The person willing to share the legal responsibility of sponsoring an immigrant is a joint sponsor. To become a joint sponsor, you must also meet the same requirements as a primary sponsor, only that you don’t have to be related to the immigrant.
Since the joint sponsor will financially support the family-member, they (including their household member who may provide third-party support) need to fulfil the 125% income requirement according to federal poverty guidelines. However, you are not allowed to add up your income with the joint sponsor’s income to reach the income requirement.
A substitute sponsor is to file Form I-864 in the place of a deceased visa petitioner that passed on after the visa petition is approved, provided the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wills to continue with the petition. The USCIS, a department within the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the government agency that will process the application. The substitute sponsor must also meet the legal and financial requirements of a sponsor in accordance with INA 213A. They must also have relations with the intending immigrant in any of these capacity:
- Child (at least 18 years old)
- Beneficiary’s legal guardian
When to File the Affidavit of Support
Family-based immigration laws in the United States can be quite rigorous. If you intend to sponsor an immigrant, it is advisable to work closely with an experienced immigration attorney before you begin to file with the USCIS.
Ideally, you should fill Form I-864 when an overseas consular office schedules an immigrant visa interview for the applicant concerned or the latter submits an application for permanent residency status with a US immigration court or the USCIS.
Joint sponsors should also complete Form I-864 at this time. If you depend on the income of any household member to qualify, each concerned person must complete a separate Form I-864A which stipulates the Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.
Your U.S. federal income tax return and proof of current employment are among the documents to be filed. If you are tax-exempted within the required timeframe, you need to give an explanation. Delaying information on your annual returns or evidence of exemption may delay action on your visa petition. If you fail to provide this information, your relative’s visa or adjustment of status may be denied.
The immigrant is also required to provide the completed I-864 form during their interview or application for permanent resident status. The interview process is activated once you file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
Form I-130 contains fundamental personal and relationship-based details while Form I-864 is strictly about financial sponsorship. In a way, Form I-864 is a kind of contract that guarantees the immigrant’s financial security from the US government’s perspective. This way, if they later utilize any public benefits, the government can be reimbursed from the sponsor’s income or assets.
The completed Affidavit of Support, including the required documentation should be notarized and made available to the intending applicant who will compile it with their visa or permanent resident status application. If the National Visa Center issues specific instructions to file your affidavit, follow as directed.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updates its Federal Poverty Guidelines every year. The chart, containing variables for the 48 adjoining states and DC, highlights the dollar requirements based on the number of people in a family or household. The amounts vary for Alaska and Hawaii residents.
For example, in 2022, the revenue (or assets) of a sponsor with 2 family members based in any U.S. mainland states needs to reach at least $40,588 if they are looking to sponsor an immigrant with a child to make a total of 5 people.
Another factor that matters regarding minimum income requirements for a green card holder or US citizen on spousal sponsorship is whether the sponsor is a military or civilian spouse. A military spouse is someone on active duty in the US Armed Forces who is applying for their spouse’s green card.
You qualify to sponsor your spouse’s green card application once your remuneration exceeds the federal poverty line by a minimum of 125%. Couples who reside outside the US both need to adhere to the minimum income requirements applicable to the 48 contiguous states and other US territories.
For instance, a civilian spouse based in Hawaii with a household size of 3 (spouse inclusive) would meet the income requirement of $33,113. If they are based in Alaska, that would be $35,988 while it would cost $28,788 in US mainland.
Military spouses can be eligible to qualify for spousal sponsorship if their income requirements reach 100% of the federal poverty line. If both couples are domiciled outside the US, they both need to adhere to the minimum income requirements applicable to the 48 contiguous states and other US territories.
For example, a military spouse based in Hawaii with a household size of 5 (spouse inclusive) would meet the minimum income requirement of $37,350. If they are based in Alaska, that would be $40,590 while it would cost $32,470 if they reside in other parts of the United States.
How Determine the Minimum Income Requirements According to Your Household Size
For the number of people in your household, remember to count the following:
- Yourself (the sponsor)
- Your spouse (the sponsored immigrant or green card applicant)
- Your unmarried children (below age 21 or the age of majority where they live)
- Anyone else listed as dependent on your tax form
- Any other green card applicant who is coming to the US with your spouse
- Anyone else whose Affidavit of Support you will separately sponsor
If your total income still does not meet the minimum income requirements to sponsor an immigrant, you are allowed to include the income of other adult household members. However, you can only include it if it is enough income and they are willing to provide financial support to your applicant.
If there are no adult members or willing adults in the sponsor’s household, or if the income level still doesn’t meet the federal poverty guidelines, a viable option is to get a co-sponsor.
Where feasible, you can include the earnings from the immigrant provided they keep generating their income from that same source once their application is approved.
Does Foreign Income Count?
There is only one way foreign income counts for the income requirements of sponsors who are currently domiciled outside of the United States; if they can prove that they will retain their current job when they are back in the US, or they have secured a new job that supports their full financial responsibility as a sponsor.
The income of sponsors who work remotely or transfer offices within multinationals can count as foreign income.
How Assets Help to Meet Financial Obligations
Assets refer to items that are easily convertible to cash within one year and whose loss will not impoverish the sponsor’s household. The amount required for sponsorship can be obtained through income alone, or, where that will not suffice, by combining income and assets.
If an asset is the sponsor’s major retirement account, and cashing it out will lead to severe financial loss, it might not be accepted. Moreover, the government will not count the full value of the asset when determining the minimum annual income obligation. Sponsors need to divide the value of the asset by 5 while US nationals sponsoring a spose or minor children can divide theirs by 3.
You are also allowed to count the assets of other adult household members provided you are related to them by birth, marriage or adoption and you lived together for the past six months or you enlist them as a dependent on your latest tax return.
To determine the volume of your assets that needs to be added to your Affidavit of Support, follow these steps:
- Find your minimum income requirement according to the HHS federal poverty line (remember to rightly fix your household size and note the civilian or military multiplier quotient).
- Observe the variation between your actual combined household income and minimum income obligation.
- As the sponsor, if you are a green card holder, multiply this variance by 5. If you are a US citizen, multiply this by 3. The aggregate is the total value of assets needed to offset the minimum income requirement.
With the asset value determined, you can now pinpoint the assets to file to meet the annual income obligation. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services regards the following items as assets that can be counted:
- Cash savings
- Mutual fund investments
- Stocks and bonds
- Certificates of deposit (CDs)
- Your home’s value
- Your car’s net value (provided you own another vehicle that is not listed as an asset)
To calculate your home’s net value, subtract any mortgages or outstanding fees on your home from its appraised value. To calculate your car’s net value, subtract any outstanding auto loans on the vehicle from the market value of the car.
Assets owned by the intending immigrant or green card applicant can be added regardless of their base. Their foreign assets, including foreign savings accounts also count. For foreign resources to count towards the minimum financial requirements, the green card holder, US citizen, their applicant spouse or intending immigrant must be able to relocate the assets from their current location to the US while liquid assets must be convertible to cash.
When Sponsor's Income is Low
What happens if your annual income doesn’t meet the minimum income requirement for sponsoring immigrant(s)? You still have to fill the Affidavit of Support form as the primary sponsor. Then you may seek for options to augment the difference, starting with a willing and financially capable adult household member who would sign Form I-864A.
If the immigrant already lives and works in the country, another practical solution is to rely on their income and assets, provided they can continue with the current job or have another one lined up for them after obtaining the green card.
Other alternatives include getting a joint sponsor who has enough to meet the total value in addition to the support they currently provide to their own household.
If you have done all you can and still haven’t met the minimum income requirement to sponsor an immigrant or a green card applicant, your financial assets can be added to the mix. But it is advisable to canvass for household income before liquidating or transferring your assets. This includes other household members’ assets that meet the eligibility criteria.
When Does a Sponsor's Financial Responsibility End?
An Affidavit of Support is legally binding on the sponsor until the following conditions or requirements are fulfilled by the immigrant or green card applicant:
- Relocates permanently outside the US
- Becomes a U.S. citizen
- Credited with 40 quarters of work in the US (usually takes 10 years)
You are to take on the financial responsibility until any of the event occurs. If the sponsored immigrant has been living in the the country and earning work credits before submitting an application for the green card, the previous work credits add up to the 40. For spousal cases, the work done by the sponsoring spouse while married can also add up to the required 40 quarters.
Risks of Sponsoring an Immigrant
Form I-864 is a legally enforceable agreement wherein the sponsored immigrant, green card applicant or the government can sue the sponsor if they fail to provide the required support. Because the law places more responsibility on the sponsor than the immigrant, signing an Affidavit of Support is a weighty decision with decade-long responsibility.
If the sponsored immigrant decides to quit their job and live on the sponsor, they would be operating within their legal rights. If they sue the sponsor, they can be compensated by about 125% of the annual income stipulated in the federal poverty guidelines.
Filing for bankruptcy does not automatically terminate your sponsorship obligations because Form I-864 falls under Domestic Support Obligations alongside other support obligations like maintenance, alimony, or support for a person’s child, spouse, or former spouse.
For spousal sponsorship cases, the sponsoring spouse remains legally responsible even after a divorce. Some sponsors ask the immigrant to sign a different contract agreeing not to enforce financial sponsorship in case of a divorce, but its admissibility in court is debatable.
Should a sponsor attempt to escape from their responsibilities by changing their address, the US government has prohibited such move by legally requiring sponsors to keep USCIS updated on their current address until their financial obligation ends.
If a sponsor changes address, the law mandates them to file Form I-865, Sponsor’s Notice of Change of Address, within 30 days after the date they moved. Any sponsor that fails to comply may pay fines between $250 and $2,000; or $5,000 if they know the immigrant has received means-tested public benefits.
You can only petition for a foreign national’s visa or green card if they are a family member or an employee. However, you can still help a friend and other acquaintances by acting as a financial sponsor if you meet the income requirement. Your contribution as a sponsor can be important enough to determine if their application is approved or rejected.
Household income must be at least 125% of the federal poverty line for a civilian household size. A full-time military sponsor needs to meet 100% of the poverty line. You can file Form I-864 to commit to sponsoring a non-family member.
If the immigrant relies on any government assistance program, you may be liable for a civil lawsuit whereby you’ll have to refund the government. You may also be liable for a fine, just as would be the case with a relative sponsorship. However, your friend or relative are free to access some government assisted programs.
Public Benefits that Exclude Immigrants
The following means-tested public benefits programs are not available for immigrants:
- Food stamps
- Supplement Security Income (SSI)
- State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Public Benefits Accessible to Immigrants
If a sponsored immigrant utilizes these assistance programs, you bear no liability:
- Emergency Medicaid
- Head Start Programs
- Immunizations, testing, and treatment for infectious diseases
- Means-tested programs (Elementary and Secondary Education Act)
- Job Training Partnership Act programs
- Short-term, non-cash emergency relief
- Certain forms of foster-care or adoption assistance (Social Security Act)
- Student assistance (Higher Education Act and Public Health Service Act)
- Services under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts
There are cases where sponsored immigrants need to have lived in the US for a minimum of 5 years to be eligible for certain benefits.
How Can IAS Help?
Financially sponsoring an immigrant or green card applicant is dynamic because of the rules, exceptions, exemptions and broad range of applications. Your safety heavily relies on legal advice tailored to your circumstances provided by a reputable immigration law firm. Call us on 0330 311 6351 to get started or contact us today for immediate assistance.
Last modified on May 4th, 2023 at 1:55 pm
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