If you’re like many people, you know that it’s possible for an American citizen or lawful permanent resident to sponsor an immigrant to come to the United States. But what, exactly, does it mean to be a sponsor, and how does it all work? This guide explains.
What is a Green Card Sponsor in Family Immigration?
A green card sponsor is someone who helps an immigrant become a lawful permanent resident in the United States. The sponsor does this by signing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This form is essentially a contract that says the person who signs it agrees to use their financial resources to support the person named on the affidavit if necessary.
Anyone who applies to become a permanent resident through a family member needs a financial sponsor. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires Form I-864 as part of a complete application. Without it, USCIS will deny the application.
Note that sponsoring someone for family immigration is different from sponsoring an employee to work for your company. Business immigration is a separate process and requires an employer to perform several steps before being eligible to sponsor a worker. (This guide only addresses family immigration.) The one exception is when an immigrant is coming to the U.S. to work for a relative, or for a company that a relative owns a certain share in. If this sounds like your situation, you should speak to a New York immigration attorney about the requirements you and your family member must meet.
Related: Can undocumented immigrants get legal status in the United States?
Who’s Eligible to Sponsor Someone for a Green Card in the United States?
To sponsor an immigrant, you must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who’s at least 18 years old. You must also be currently living in the United States or one of its territories or possessions at the time you file an Affidavit of Support.
The sponsor is usually the person whose relationship qualifies the immigrant for lawful permanent residency in the United States. For example, a spouse may sponsor their partner; a parent may sponsor their child. In some cases, a child may sponsor their parent, or someone may sponsor a sibling.
Who Can U.S. Citizens Sponsor?
U.S. citizens may sponsor the following family members:
- A spouse
- An unmarried child under the age of 21
- A parent (if the citizen is over the age of 21)
- A married child of any age
- A sibling (if the citizen is over the age of 21)
Who Can Lawful Permanent Residents Sponsor?
Lawful permanent residents may sponsor the following family members:
- A spouse
- An unmarried child under the age of 21
- An unmarried stepchild under the age of 21
Related: The step-by-step guide to removing conditions from a green card
Can You Sponsor More Than One Person?
You may sponsor more than one person. However, you will need to complete a separate petition and Affidavit of Support for each person you wish to sponsor. You also need to prove that you can financially support each immigrant you sponsor.
The Affidavit of Support for Green Card Sponsors
An Affidavit of Support helps ensure that new immigrants to the United States aren’t living in poverty. Unfortunately, sometimes people come to the U.S. without adequate money to live on – and that’s where the sponsor comes in. The sponsor signs a legally binding affidavit that says they agree to provide for the immigrant if necessary; that helps prevent new immigrants from being forced to rely on some types of public assistance programs. If the immigrant uses certain forms of public assistance, the sponsor is required to repay the government for the assistance the immigrant uses.
Generally, you must make at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which change every year, to qualify as a sponsor. There’s an exception, though: If the sponsor is an active-duty military member in the U.S. armed forces and the immigrant is a spouse or child, the income requirement is 100 percent of the poverty level.
If you don’t make at least that amount, you may need a joint sponsor.
What is a Joint Sponsor?
Sometimes it’s necessary to use a joint sponsor – a second person who agrees to provide financial support to an immigrant who’s applying for a family-based green card. This person doesn’t have to be related to the primary sponsor or the immigrant; it can be a friend rather than a family member.
A joint sponsor may be necessary if you (the primary sponsor) don’t have enough income or assets to guarantee that you’re able to support the immigrant. You may also need a joint sponsor if your tax returns don’t accurately reflect how much you make now, even if you currently make enough. That’s because USCIS will look at your tax returns as proof of your income.
The primary sponsor and the joint sponsor must both fill out and file an Affidavit of Support.
Related: What are immigration fraud and willful misrepresentation?
What Are Your Responsibilities if You Sponsor Someone for a Green Card?
A green card sponsor’s responsibilities are simple: They must provide financial support for an immigrant if it becomes necessary. Naturally, if the immigrant can provide for themselves, the sponsor doesn’t have to provide financial support.
How Long Does Sponsorship Last?
A sponsor’s financial responsibility automatically ends when the person they sponsored becomes a U.S. citizen. If the immigrant doesn’t become a U.S. citizen, the sponsor’s financial responsibility ends when the immigrant is credited with 40 quarters of work in the U.S. (which usually happens if the immigrant is continuously employed for 10 years), leaves the U.S. permanently, or passes away.
What is the Process for Sponsoring an Immigrant?
The first step in sponsoring an immigrant is usually filing a petition with USCIS. The specific forms you need to file depends on your relationship to the person you’re sponsoring. Your immigration attorney will know exactly which forms you need to file, as well as what types of supporting documentation you need to send in with your petition.
Sponsoring an Immigrant Who Already Lives in the United States
The process for sponsoring an immigrant who already lives in the United States is a little different. In this case, you need to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, along with the other required documents. The immigrant must then attend an interview at a USCIS office.
Sponsoring an Immigrant Who Lives Outside the United States
If the immigrant you want to sponsor lives outside the United States, you will need to go through the National Visa Center (NVC) process. The first step is to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. After that’s approved, the NVC will send you information and instructions on how to submit the Affidavit of Support and pay the visa processing fee. From there, the immigrant will need to attend an interview at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
What Supporting Documents Do You Need to Sponsor an Immigrant?
There are a few different supporting documents that you may need to submit (in addition to your Affidavit of Support) when sponsoring an immigrant. These include:
- Proof of your U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status
- Proof of your relationship to the immigrant
- Evidence of your financial ability to support the immigrant
- A medical examination
- A police certificate (if required)
You may also need to submit other documents, depending on your individual circumstances. But don’t worry – your immigration attorney will tell you exactly what you need for your petition.
How Much Does it Cost to Sponsor a Family Member?
There are a few different fees associated with sponsoring a family member for a green card. The first is the filing fee for the petition, which is subject to change (but you can find the current fee here). You may also have to pay a biometrics fee and a fee for the Affidavit of Support.
How Long Does it Take to Sponsor an Immigrant?
The amount of time it takes to sponsor an immigrant depends on a few different factors. These include:
- The relationship between the sponsor and the immigrant
- The immigrant’s country of origin
- Whether the immigrant is already in the United States
Generally speaking, it takes longer to sponsor an immigrant who is not a close relative and who lives outside the United States. The entire process can take several months (or longer), so it’s best if you talk to an immigration attorney about your specific situation. Your attorney can discuss how long your case is likely to take and when your relative may be able to come to the United States.
Related: Can you get a green card with a criminal record?
What if the Person I’m Sponsoring Gets a Green Card Based on Employment?
If the immigrant you sponsored gets a green card based on employment rather than a family relationship, you are not responsible for them financially. The employer is responsible for making sure that the immigrant can support themselves.
However, even if you’re not financially responsible for an employed immigrant, you may still be considered their sponsor. That’s because you were the one who originally petitioned for them to come to the United States. As such, you may be asked about your sponsorship during the immigrant’s green card interview.
Do You Need to Talk to an Immigration Attorney About Sponsoring Someone for a Green Card?
If you need to talk to an immigration attorney, we may be able to help you. Call our office at 914-481-8822 to schedule a consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable immigration attorney who can answer your questions and give you the legal advice you need.