The above question is one that I answer rather frequently in my immigration law office. A joint sponsor is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who files a form with USCIS to benefit a family member or friend who is an intending immigrant. This typically happens when the family member or friend of the joint sponsor cannot meet the income requirements to sponsor their loved one(s), and so they need a joint sponsor to step in and help.
Generally, U.S. citizens who petition for their spouses, step-children, and / or parents must file an Affidavit of support form which requires that they meet certain income requirements. If, as noted above, they cannot meet these requirements, then they can obtain a friend or family member to become a joint sponsor to meet the guidelines required by USCIS.
A.Requirements to Become a Joint Sponsor:
To become a joint sponsor, you must meet the following six requirements:
You must either be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. You must provide a copy of your naturalization certificate, U.S. passport of birth certificate to prove your status in the U.S.
You must have in your possession last year’s income tax return and W-2, if not self-employed.
You must make more income as noted on your income taxes than the minimum poverty guidelines. There is a table that USCIS provides that shows the minimum income required per the number of people that the joint sponsor is responsible to legally assist. This includes their own families, children listed as dependents on the income taxes, the immigrant that their friend / family member is petitioning for, etc.
You just be 18 years old or older.
Must reside in the U.S. at the time you file the Affidavit of Support form.
You agree to be JOINTLY liable for the intending immigrant, even though you are not petitioning for that immigrant and even though you may not even be related to that person, etc.
The table that lists the poverty guidelines can be found on Form I-864P, Poverty Guidelines, and be sure to always review the most recently dated version available. Once your immigration lawyer reviews the paperwork and it is determined that you can qualify as a joint sponsor, you then will complete and sign the Affidavit of Support form, or the immigration lawyer will complete the form and request that you review the form and sign the form.
B.Your Responsibility Once You Agree to Become a Joint Sponsor:
You must determine whether you want to become a joint sponsor before you sign on the dotted line. Once you sign and once the paperwork is submitted, it is often too late to request that USCIS “ignore" your signature, etc.
The Affidavit of Support is a contract between the signer and the U.S. government. If the immigrant that you sponsor receives a Federal, State or local public benefits, you may have to re-pay the costs associated with the benefit(s) that they receive. If you refuse to pay, the U.S. government can actually sue you, based on your contract.
Some of the benefits that are included in the above list are Food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Medicaid. These obligations to repay the U.S. government apply when the intending immigrant receives his or her green card.
It shocks people when they find out that even if the couple divorces, you are still on the line to pay for your friend’s ex-wife, etc. In other words, divorce does not nullify the Affidavit of Support contract that you signed.
C.Can I Ever Be Released from being a Sponsor or Joint Sponsor?
Yes you can be released but only under the following strict circumstances:
The USCIS Officer determines at the time of interview that a Joint sponsor is no longer needed, and the Immigration lawyer on the case requests that the joint sponsor paperwork be taken out of the file. You should not count on this happening.
The intending immigrant earns 40 qualifying quarters of work in the U.S., after the green card is issued, i.e. on or about 10 years of work in the U.S.
The intending immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen.
The intending immigrant passes away.
The intending immigrant loses his or her green card AND leaves the U.S. on a permanent basis.
Again, divorce does not end the financial obligation. Only you can make the decision whether to become a joint sponsor or not. As shown above, it is a rather serious contract that could result in financial obligations years down the line. On the other hand, most people like to help their family and / or friends, especially when it comes to your loved one being able to remain with his wife, etc.