When you file a petition for immigration to the United States, there are many different requirements that you must meet to prove that you are eligible to become a permanent resident and receive a green card. As an “intending immigrant,” you must prove that you are not going to become a public charge or request financial assistance from the U.S. government. Even if you have lots of income or assets of your own, 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 does not have enough income or assets to meet the minimum required threshold, then you will need a joint sponsor, sometimes called a financial co-sponsor. The minimum threshold for most sponsors is 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines based upon household size and location. Household size includes the sponsor or joint sponsor’s dependents and the intending immigrant. If income is too low, then assets may be used, but assets must equal 5 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 the added hassle of using assets for purposes of the affidavit of support.
A joint sponsor can be any person who is:
- At least 18 years old;
- A U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident (“green card holder”) who resides in the United States or a U.S. territory;
- Able to prove total household income of at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines; and
- 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. You may be questioned about your relationship with a joint sponsor. Ideally, a joint sponsor would be a close family member or friend as this is less likely to draw increased scrutiny, athough this is not strictly required.
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 that of a joint sponsor to meet the income requirement. Like the sponsor, a joint sponsor must be able to prove that he or she meets the income threshold by providing:
- A copy of his or her individual Federal income tax returns, including W-2s for the three most recent tax years, including a copy of each and every Form 1099, Schedule, and any other evidence of reported income;
- A copy of his or her pay stubs from the most recent six months;
- A letter or statement from his or her employer that confirms your employment and rate of pay.
- If the joint sponsor was not required to file taxes for one or all of the last three years, they can prepare a statement and/or evidence describing why they were not required to file.
The joint sponsor also must provide proof of his or her U.S. Citizenship or Permanent Residence, such as a copy of a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, or green card.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
By signing the affidavit of support, a joint sponsor stands in the shoes of the primary sponsor and takes on the legal responsibility for financially supporting the sponsored immigrant(s).
This obligation generally lasts until the immigrant:
- Becomes an U.S. Citizen;
- Works for 40 quarters (or 10 years);
- Surrenders his or her green card or leaves the United States;
- Receives a new green card after being placed in removal proceedings.
The death of the joint sponsor will 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. Not all benefits come under the “public charge” category, for example non-cash assistance such as Medicaid and unemployment compensation, although this is an area where there have been recent proposed changes. 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 does not 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 does not apply for benefits, then the joint sponsor will not owe any money on the immigrant’s behalf.