How to sponsor an immigrant friend to the U.S.

Sponsoring an immigrant is an essential part when you are looking to help a friend or a family member to come to the U.S. permanently. After all, having friends and family with you is much better, and traveling back and forth to your home country can be draining. In this article, you will learn how to sponsor an immigrant friend and how to sponsor family members to come to the U.S.

What is a Sponsor?

In the immigration context, a sponsor is someone who consents to financially support an immigrant’s stay in the U.S. A sponsor can be a family member, a group of people, a business, or even someone to who you have no relation. As a sponsor, you will undertake certain responsibilities for your sponsoring immigrant. A sponsor must be financially secure and be able to provide financial assistance to the immigrant when needed.

How to Sponsor an Immigrant Friend

You cannot directly sponsor a friend to come to the U.S. and to gain a green card. You can only do so for family members. However, you can become a co-sponsor in your friend’s immigration. For example, if your friend has a family member in the U.S. who is an American citizen or a green card holder, they can act as a sponsor for your friend. You, on the other hand, could co-sponsor your friend’s application by submitting Form I-864. Bear in mind that being a sponsor has its own long-lasting obligations to the U.S. government, which are described below.

Situations Where You Can Sponsor an Immigrant

There are plenty of scenarios where you can sponsor an immigrant. Generally, they can be broken down into:

  • Sponsors for family-based immigration applications;
  • Sponsors for fiance or spouse visa applications;
  • Sponsors for employment-based application (the process differs depending on various factors); and
  • Sponsors for other types of immigration scenarios.

In every scenario, a sponsor would have to file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This form can differ depending on your situation and you might fill out I-864 EZ or I-864A instead. Regardless of the type of the form, the USCIS will determine if you can qualify as a sponsor based on the provided information.

Requirements for Sponsoring Immigrants

If you want to become a sponsor for a foreign citizen coming to the U.S. you must be:

  1. A U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident;
  2. At least 18 years of age when filing Form I-130;
  3. Reside in the U.S. or its territories and have proof of domicile;
  4. Have enough funds to pass the financial requirements; and
  5. Fill out Form I-864.

It is important to note that you cannot sponsor an immigrant if you are a U.S. visa holder.

Income Requirement to Become a Sponsor

You must meet certain income requirements to become a sponsor. The most common minimum financial requirement is an annual income of $22,000. This figure is calculated to be at least 125% above the Federal poverty level based on the ASPE. It is also crucial to note that this figure changes yearly depending on the poverty level fluctuations. Military personnel benefit from a reduced requirement of 100% of the poverty level.

Which Immigrants Do Not Need Sponsoring

An affidavit of support is necessary in order to become a sponsored immigrant to the U.S. However, some types of immigrants do not require sponsorship at all, such as:

  • If you are an immigrant that has earned or can credit 40 qualifying quarters of work in the U.S.;
  • If you are an immigrant who has an approved Form I-360 as a self-petitioning widow or widower. The form is also known as Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant;
  • If you are an immigrant who has an approved I-360 as a battered spouse or a child; or
  • Orphans adopted abroad by U.S. citizens.

Your Liability as a Sponsor

Sponsoring an immigrant comes with special obligations. Form-864, although an immigration form, is actually a legally enforceable contract between the sponsor, the immigrant, and the U.S. government. As a few examples:

  • The government can sue the sponsor to collect any funds as reimbursement for any public benefits given to the immigrant.
  • The immigrant can sue the sponsor to collect funds to allow their income to equate to 125% above the poverty level.

The sponsor is liable for the immigrant until:

  • The immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen;
  • The immigrant earns 40 work quarters credited toward Social Security;
  • The immigrant dies or leaves the U.S.

In many cases, even bankruptcy won’t allow sponsors to escape the financial responsibility for an immigrant.

In marriage-based cases, the sponsor will remain legally liable for their immigrant partner even after a divorce. This can cause problems when the spouse is willingly refusing to seek work. In such cases, sponsors can create a separate contract with their spouses to clarify the issue of intentionally avoiding employment.

Under the U.S. immigration law, sponsors that are not conforming to their obligations can face considerable fines. Very often, sponsors would move to a different address without notifying the USCIS and think that they have escaped their obligations. However, that is not the case, as failure to update your address with USCIS would make you subject to a fine between $300 and $2,000. Additionally, if the sponsor has knowledge that their sponsoring immigrant has collected public funds, then the sponsor would be subject to a fine of up to $5,000

What is Joint Sponsorship

In some situations, there can be multiple people sponsoring an immigrant. One of these situations is usually when the primary sponsor does not meet the financial requirements. To meet the requirement, you can seek an additional sponsor. There are two additional requirements for the co-sponsor:

  • They cannot live at the same address as the primary sponsor; and
  • They are willing to accept the same liability for the immigrant as the primary sponsor.

To become a co-sponsor, you will have to submit a separate Form I-864 as well as meet the standard sponsorship requirements. It is important to note that the incomes of both sponsors cannot combine to meet the financial requirement and each sponsor must pass the requirement individually.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions about sponsoring immigrants to the U.S.

Can I sponsor an immigrant that is a non-family member?

In personal immigration cases, you cannot directly sponsor an immigrant for a green card that is not a family member. However, you can act as a co-sponsor for, for example, your friend’s family member’s immigration to the U.S. In some cases, co-sponsorship is the only way for an immigrant to come to the U.S. However, to become a co-sponsor you must know your liability and obligations.

How much does sponsoring an immigrant cost?

There are essentially no costs for sponsoring an immigrant to the U.S. Any sponsor would have to file Form I-864 which is free of charge. However, some sponsors choose to pay for the entire immigration process, which can be costly and add up anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000.

Can anybody sponsor an immigrant?

Not everyone can sponsor an immigrant because there are certain requirements that any sponsor must meet. Firstly, you must be a U.S. citizen or a green card holder. Secondly, you must be over 18 years old. Thirdly, your primary domicile must be in the U.S. or its territories. Fourthly, you must meet the financial requirement, and lastly, file Form I-864.

How long do you have to sponsor an immigrant?

You will be liable for the immigrant until:

  1. The immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen;
  2. Earns 40 work quarters toward Social Security; or
  3. Dies or prematurely leaves the U.S.

Can someone on social security sponsor an immigrant?

Yes, you can still be a sponsor if you are on social security. Depending on your social security payments, you can still meet the financial requirements of becoming a sponsor to an immigrant. As long as your annual income is above 125% of the U.S. poverty line, you will qualify as a sponsor. If your social security payments are not enough, you may seek a co-sponsor that would bear the legal and financial obligations of sponsoring an immigrant with you.

How many times can I sponsor an immigrant?

A U.S. citizen or a green card holder can sponsor immigrants multiple times. In theory, you can sponsor as many family-based immigrants as you want. However, each applicant must file a separate immigration application, and for each immigrant, the sponsor must file a separate I-864. This means that the sponsor must meet the financial requirement for each immigrant separately.

How old to sponsor an immigrant?

You must be at least 18 years old at the time of I-130 submission in order to sponsor an immigrant to the U.S. You must meet other requirements like having a permanent domicile in the U.S. or its territories.

What does it mean to co-sponsor an immigrant?

To co-sponsor an immigrant essentially means that you are taking on the same responsibilities and obligations as the primary sponsor. To become a co-sponsor, you must be an eligible sponsor, pass the financial requirements, and submit a separate I-864.

Can an American citizen sponsor an immigrant?

Yes, American citizens are eligible to sponsor a foreign resident to become an immigrant in the U.S. In fact, being either a U.S. citizen or a green card holder is one of the requirements for sponsoring an immigrant. Other requirements are to have a U.S. domicile and pass the financial requirements.

How VisaNation Can Help

With sponsoring requirements and processes being very complicated, it is important that it is done the right first time. VisaNation Law Group attorneys have extensive experience helping people obtain green cards through their families and through their employment and can help you avoid the common pitfalls.