For typical family-based immigrants attempting to obtain a green card, the petitioning relative must sign a form I-864 Affidavit of Support. By signing this Affidavit, the petitioner is agreeing with the U.S. Government that if the immigrant obtains federal governmental benefits, the government has the right to seek reimbursement from the petitioner. Note that this is only with regard to federal governmental benefits for the immigrant only, and does not include any state benefits. It also does not include any benefits received by the immigrant's family members. This agreement is in effect for the shorter period of (1) the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, (2) the immigrant dies, (3) the immigrant works 40 quarters (which would be 10 years straight employment), (4) the immigrant permanently leaves the U.S., or (5) the immigrant receives a green card based on a new Affidavit of Support. Note that divorce does not terminate the petitioner's obligations under the Affidavit of Support.

The petitioner must sign the Affidavit of Support regardless of the amount of income or assets. If the petitioner cannot show that he or she has income or assets equal to 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for his or her household size, however, then the petitioner must enlist a joint sponsor in order for the petition to proceed and the green card to be approved. A joint sponsor can be a U.S. citizen or green card holder, but does not have to be related to the immigrant or petitioner. The joint sponsor must meet the full 125% amount for his or her own household size, and not just the amount that the petitioner lacks to meet the threshold. The joint sponsor's obligation to the U.S. government is the same as the petitioner's obligation noted above. And the government can seek reimbursement directly and solely from the joint sponsor without seeking reimbursement from the petitioner.

Deciding whether to help a friend or family member by being a joint sponsor is not a decision to be taken lightly. Further, calculating income and assets to meet the 125% threshold can be complicated. Persons considering becoming a joint sponsor should talk to an experienced immigration attorney to understand the obligation before signing an Affidavit of Support.

David M. Elliott has been practicing immigration law and business law at Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C. for over 17 years. He enjoys helping families bring their loved ones to the U.S. He can be reached at (888) 463-8117.

This blog is not intended to create an attorney/client relationship or provide legal advice. Please contact the author if you have any questions or comments regarding the subject matter.