Whether it’s a friend or a family member, sponsoring an immigrant can be a life-changing move. The process may be difficult, but the ultimate reward—having your loved ones close by to enrich your life—makes every step worth it.

Family-based green cards can be difficult to obtain, considering the immigration laws and the numerous forms required. In this article, you will learn how to sponsor an immigrant friend and how to sponsor family members for U.S. immigration.

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What is a Sponsor?

In immigration terms, a sponsor is someone who agrees to financially support an immigrant while they are in the U.S. This sponsor can be a family member, friend, company, or even someone. 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.

Depending on the type of visa or green card application, sponsors are usually required to submit an “Affidavit of Support,” which serves as proof of their financial stability and commitment to support the immigrant. This document often requires a detailed financial background check, tax records, and employment verification. Additionally, sponsors are responsible for ensuring that the immigrant follows all U.S. laws and regulations. Failure to meet these responsibilities could lead to legal repercussions for the sponsor, including financial penalties. Hence, while being a sponsor is a noble act of support for someone looking to start a new life in the U.S., it is also a serious obligation that should not be taken lightly.

Find out how to get a green card without sponsorship.

Requirements for Sponsoring Immigrants

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

  • U.S. Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residency: The sponsor must be either a U.S. citizen or a green card holder. Visa holders are generally not eligible to sponsor an immigrant for a green card.
  • Age Requirement: A US Citizen has to be at least 18 years of age to sponsor a spouse but over the age of 21 to sponsor a parent or a sibling (Form I-130 for family-based green cards or equivalent forms for other types of visas).
  • Proof of Domicile: The sponsor should be living in the United States or its territories. Proof of domicile may include documents such as utility bills, a lease agreement, or a mortgage contract showing your U.S. residence.
  • Financial Stability: Sponsors must demonstrate the ability to financially support the immigrant. This often involves submitting an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), and may require showing proof of income, assets, employment, or a combination thereof. The income of the sponsor should generally be at least 125% above the federal poverty guidelines for their household size.
  • Form Filing: The sponsor must properly fill out and submit the appropriate forms for the specific type of visa they are sponsoring. For family-based visas, this usually means filing Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). For employment-based visas, the process can be different and may involve multiple forms, including labor certification.
  • Payment of Fees: The sponsor is often responsible for application or petition fees, which can vary depending on the type of visa.
  • Ongoing Responsibilities: Sponsoring an immigrant is a long-term commitment that could last until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen or has worked in the U.S. for a certain number of years. This means that the sponsor could be financially responsible for the immigrant during this period.

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

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.

Situations Where You Can Sponsor an Immigrant

There are plenty of scenarios where you can sponsor an immigrant:

  • 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. Schedule a consultation with an immigration lawyer to better understand what information the USCIS is looking for.

How to Sponsor an Immigrant Friend

While you can’t directly sponsor a friend for a U.S. green card, you can act as a co-sponsor in their immigration process. If your friend has a family member in the U.S. who is either an American citizen or a green card holder, that person can serve as the primary sponsor.

You can then support your friend’s application by filling out Form I-864 as a co-sponsor. It’s important to note that taking on the role of a sponsor comes with ongoing responsibilities to the U.S. government.

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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 anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000.

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 $25,000. The ASPE calculates this figure to be at least 125% above the Federal poverty level.

It is also crucial to note that this figure changes yearly depending on the poverty level fluctuations. Military personnel benefits from a reduced requirement of 100% of the poverty level.

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Which Immigrants Do Not Need Sponsoring

An affidavit of support is necessary 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 who 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 the 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 of 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 willingly refuses to seek work. In such cases, sponsors can create a separate contract with their spouses to clarify the issue of intentionally avoiding employment.

Do you have questions related to family-based immigration? We can help you with the entire process from start to finish.

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. 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

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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.

Interested in learning about the U.S. Golden Visa, take a look at our comprehensive guide on the topic.

How VisaNation Can Help

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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.