What is a Joint Sponsor?

Erick Widman

When you file a petition for immigration to the United States, you must meet many different requirements to prove you’re eligible to become a permanent resident and receive a green card. As an “intending immigrant,” you must demonstrate that you won’t become a public charge or petition the US government for financial assistance. Even if you have your own sufficient income or assets, the immigration process requires that the family member (usually your spouse) petitioning for you act as your financial sponsor by signing an “affidavit of support,” or USCIS Form I-864.

If your sponsor doesn’t have enough income or assets to meet the minimum required threshold, then you’ll need a joint sponsor, sometimes called a financial co-sponsor. The minimum threshold for most sponsors is 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, based on household size and location. Household size includes the sponsor or joint sponsor’s dependents and the intending immigrant. If their income is too low, then they may use their assets, but those assets must equal five times the difference between the joint sponsor’s income and the minimum required income. It is generally best to find a joint sponsor whose income exceeds the threshold rather than deal with the added hassle of using assets for the affidavit of support.

Who can be a joint sponsor?

A joint sponsor can be any person who is:

  • At least 18 years old
  • A US citizen or lawful permanent resident (“green card holder”) who resides in the United States or a US territory
  • Able to prove total household income of at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
  • Willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting you by filing Form I-864.

A joint sponsor must meet all the same financial requirements as a principal sponsor. However, a joint sponsor does not need to be related to the intending immigrant, although you may be questioned about your relationship with a joint sponsor. Ideally, a joint sponsor would be a close family member or friend (although it’s not strictly required), as such a relationship is less likely to draw increased scrutiny.

What Proof does a Joint Sponsor Need to Provide?

The joint sponsor (or the joint sponsor and his or her household) must reach the 125% income requirement alone. You cannot combine your income with theirs to meet the income requirement. Like the sponsor, joint sponsors must be able to prove that they meet the income threshold by providing:

  • A copy of their individual federal income tax returns, including W-2s for the three most recent tax years, with a copy of each and every Form 1099 and Schedule, as well as any other evidence of reported income
  • A copy of their pay stubs over the last six months
  • A letter or statement from their employer that confirms employment and pay rate

If joint sponsors weren’t required to file taxes for one or all of the last three years, they can prepare a statement and/or supply evidence describing why they were not required to file.

Joint sponsors must also provide proof of their US citizenship or permanent residence, such as a copy of a birth certificate, a certificate of naturalization, or a green card.

What are the Risks?

By signing the affidavit of support, a joint sponsor stands in the primary sponsor’s shoes and takes on the legal responsibility for financially supporting the sponsored immigrant(s).

This obligation generally lasts until the immigrant:

  • Becomes a US Citizen
  • Works for 40 quarters (or 10 years)
  • Dies
  • Surrenders his or her green card or leaves the United States
  • Receives a new green card after being placed in removal proceedings

The joint sponsor’s death would also end the obligation. It is important to note that a joint sponsor’s obligation continues even if the green card holder or immigrant and the sponsoring spouse divorce.

By signing an affidavit of support, the joint sponsor agrees to reimburse the government for the immigrant’s use of public benefits. However, not all benefits come under the “public charge” category. For example, non-cash assistance such as Medicaid and unemployment compensation doesn’t qualify. Recently, however, changes have been proposed in this area. See the USCIS website for a list of each type of benefit and whether a joint sponsor would be liable for reimbursement. A joint sponsor also doesn’t take on any responsibility for the intending immigrant’s tax liabilities or private debt such as personal or student loans, medical bills, credit cards, etc.

In practice, the joint sponsor only becomes liable to the government if the sponsored immigrant applies and qualifies for government assistance. If a sponsored immigrant doesn’t apply for benefits, then the joint sponsor won’t owe any money on the immigrant’s behalf.

Obligations of a Joint Sponsor

  1. A joint sponsor’s purpose is to prevent the marriage-based green card holder from becoming a “public charge.”
  2. Financial co-sponsors are equally as responsible as the sponsoring spouse (the primary sponsor) for financially supporting the marriage-based green card holder. That is, they must maintain a minimum annual income of 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household size until their obligations to the green card holder end.
  3. Joint sponsors must notify USCIS every time they relocate. They must provide their new address on Form I-865(officially called the “Sponsor’s Notice of Change of Address”) within 30 days after moving.

Both the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) public charge rule and the Department of State (DOS) public charge policy are currently not in effect. The DHS rule was halted on March 9, 2021, while the DOS policy was paused indefinitely on July 29, 2020.

However, these changes don’t mean that all public assistance benefits are off limits to the marriage-based green card holder. The government distinguishes between benefits that make a person a public charge (for instance, cash assistance like Supplemental Security Income or “SSI”) and benefits that don’t (i.e., noncash assistance and “special-purpose” cash assistance such as Medicaid and unemployment compensation). See the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for a list of each assistance type.

If the green card holder obtains “public charge” benefits from a federal, state, or local government agency before the joint sponsor’s responsibilities end, the joint sponsor and the sponsoring spouse may be required to repay the benefit amount to the agency.

However, if the green card holder obtains “non-public charge” benefits, the joint sponsor and sponsoring spouse will not have to repay their value to the government. In other words, if the joint sponsor’s income meets 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (or other percentage, depending on the specific agency’s application criteria) for their household size, which would include the green card holder, then the green card holder may be denied benefits or receive a lower amount.

Talk with an Experienced Immigration Lawyer Today

US Immigration law is complex and highly regulated. Passage Immigration Law is devoted solely to the practice of US Immigration and Nationality Law and assists clients with a wide array of immigration questions and issues. With offices in Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, Passage Immigration Law can help you throughout the immigration process. Call to schedule an appointment today at (503) 427-8243 , or you can schedule a consultation here.

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