Residents of other countries don't have the freedom to permanently relocate to the United States without a sponsor. Unless an immigrant is sponsored by his employer, a family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident must serve as his sponsor. After the family member petitions the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for permission to bring the immigrant to the United States, he must demonstrate that he has sufficient income and assets to prevent the immigrant from using government welfare services and becoming a burden on American taxpayers.
If you sponsor an immigrant to come to the United States, you must submit an affidavit of support for the immigrant. Form I-864 is an affidavit of support that contains details about your income and assets that helps the USCIS determine whether you can afford to support the immigrant after he arrives. Your income must meet or exceed 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to be eligible to sponsor the immigrant. If your income and assets do not meet the requirements, another individual may serve as a joint sponsor. The USCIS will then take that individual's income into consideration as well when determining whether or not the immigrant has sufficient sponsorship to reside in the United States.
Form I-864 serves as a binding contract between you and the U.S. government. Although the immigrant can obtain a work permit or permanent residency and earn his own income, you and the joint sponsor are legally responsible for providing for the immigrant's needs. If the immigrant applies for and receives any means-based public welfare services, such as Medicaid or food stamps, the government can demand that you and the co-sponsor repay the amount of aid it provided to the immigrant. The immigrant also has the right to personally sue you and the co-sponsor if either of you fail to provide for his needs.
If you and the joint sponsor do not make immediate arrangements to repay any means-based aid the immigrant received, the state or federal government has the right to sue you. The consequences of a government lawsuit are severe. The government can seize you and your co-sponsor's bank accounts, attach liens to real estate and personal property each of you own and garnish your wages. The civil judgment that results from the lawsuit also causes considerable credit damage.
You and the joint sponsor aren't legally responsible for the immigrant indefinitely. The financial risks both of you incur by submitting Form I-864 end when the immigrant either becomes a U.S. citizen or completes 40 quarters of work. It typically takes 10 years for an individual to complete 40 quarters of work. After receiving permanent residency, the immigrant can apply for U.S. citizenship in as little as five years. After the immigrant receives citizenship or earns 40 work credits, he can apply for and receive means-based public assistance and neither you nor your co-sponsor are responsible for repaying these benefits.