Sponsoring someone for citizenship comes with significant responsibilities for the sponsor. These include affirming that the immigrant will not become a public charge and remaining financially liable for her for the next decade. A sponsor may also be required to pay back benefits his loved one uses.
A person who wants to emigrate to the United States typically needs a sponsor to begin the immigration process and for that sponsor to be liable for certain aspects of his immigration. The sponsor is the individual who takes financial responsibility for the immigrant once he reaches the United States, which can include providing a place for him to live. The document that names an immigrant’s sponsor is called an Affidavit of Support. It is filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Sponsoring someone for citizenship requires the sponsor to provide information about her income, assets, dependents, relationship to the immigrant she is sponsoring and her good faith belief that the immigrant is admissible to the United States and not likely to become a public charge.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Other forms of sponsorship include employers sponsoring employees, prospective parents sponsoring overseas orphans and refugees or asylees sponsoring relatives. For these types of sponsorships, see U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' webpage for instructions on what to do.
Understand Your Liability as a Sponsor
After the sponsor signs Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, she is legally required to financially support the immigrant. All this means is that the person petitioning for an immigration sponsorship needs to ensure that the immigrant has the financial means to remain at or above the United States federal poverty line, which for 2019 is $12,490 for a single person. A sponsor’s financial responsibility to his immigrant loved one terminates when one of these occurs:
- The immigrant becomes a legal U.S. citizen.
- The immigrant receives 40 quarters of work credits as defined by the Social Security Act, which typically occurs after 10 years of working.
- The immigrant leaves the United States and gives up his status as a legal permanent resident.
- The immigrant dies.
- The immigrant obtains a new Affidavit of Support after receiving an adjustment of status after being subjected to removal proceedings.
Divorcing a spouse who is a legal permanent resident does not terminate financial liability involved in immigration sponsorship, nor does an immigrating child turning 18 or 21. Filing for bankruptcy also does not eliminate a sponsor’s financial obligation. Sponsoring someone does not make one responsible for the immigrant’s personal debts or household bills, just for his overall access to life above the federal poverty level. If the immigrant does become a public charge, the sponsor is required to reimburse the federal government for the cost of the benefits used; if he does not, the federal agency involved in the case may sue him for reimbursement.
Sponsors are required to notify USCIS every time they change addresses. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $10,000.
Documents Sponsors Must Provide
When filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, the sponsor must provide:
- Documentation of citizenship or legal resident status, such as a passport, a driver’s license, a green card or a military ID.
- Identification documents for the immigrant.
- A list of all of the sponsor’s dependents.
- Disclosure of her financial assets.
Additionally, a sponsor must provide documentation proving she meets the income requirements for sponsors, which is 125 percent of the federal poverty level for households of her size or 100 percent of the federal poverty level for households her size if the sponsor is active military and the immigrant is her child or spouse.
The purpose of a sponsor providing information about assets and income is to aid USCIS in determining whether the immigrant is likely to become a public charge, which is someone who relies on federal welfare benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Timeline of the Naturalization Process
After committing to sponsoring someone for citizenship, the sponsor is responsible for getting the immigration process started. After the initial petition is filed, the process for obtaining a green card can take months or even years. This process works as follows:
- The sponsor files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative with the USCIS, along with relevant documents like a marriage certificate, a birth certificate or other information proving they are related to the immigrant.
- USCIS approves or denies the petition. If approved, the case goes to the National Visa Center for processing. If denied, the sponsor can file a new petition.
- If the petition is approved, the immigrant can apply for an immigrant visa or for a green card. If an immigrant visa is not available, he must wait until one is available.
Once an individual has a green card, he is a legal permanent resident. Typically, a legal permanent resident must live in the United States for five years before he can apply for citizenship. There are a few exceptions, though, such as the three-year limit for people married to U.S. citizens and those leaving abusive marriages with the U.S. citizens who originally sponsored their visas.
The process through which a green card holder becomes a citizen is known as naturalization. This process, on average, takes between one and two years to complete after meeting the residency requirement. It begins with the immigrant filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization with USCIS. In the months that follow, the applicant must provide biometric data, complete a citizenship interview and pass a citizenship exam, then take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States to receive her Certificate of Naturalization and begin life as a newly minted citizen of the United States.
Persons You Can Sponsor
Which relatives an individual may sponsor for citizenship depends on a few factors:
- The sponsor’s own citizenship status.
- The sponsor’s age.
- The immigrant’s relationship to the sponsor.
An immediate relative is a parent, a spouse or a child under age 21. A preference relative is an adult child, a married child, the spouse or child of a green card holder or the sibling of a U.S. citizen over the age of 21.
A U.S. citizen over age 21 can sponsor his parents, siblings and adult and married children. U.S. citizens age 18 and older can sponsor their spouses, minor children and unmarried children. Green card holders may sponsor their spouses and their unmarried children.
The visa for a foreign fiance, the K1 visa, is not an immigrant visa. The green card process for a fiance who comes to the United States on a K1 visa is somewhat different from the process for other relatives, and it starts with Form I-129F, Petition for an Alien Fiance.
Interacting With USCIS
In some cases, a sponsor may be required to complete an interview with USCIS as part of her loved one’s immigration sponsorship process. At a status adjustment interview – the interview required for an individual to become a lawful permanent resident – the immigrant's sponsor is typically required to attend. During the interview, the applicant – and the sponsor, if he is required to complete an interview – is placed under oath. If an applicant needs to work with a translator to complete the interview, his petitioner usually cannot be the one to translate because the translator needs to be a disinterested third party.
Once an individual commits to sponsoring someone for citizenship, she must stick with the sponsorship until her loved one receives his green card if she wants him to become a lawful permanent resident. Withdrawing her sponsorship at any point before the green card is issued, even if the immigrant's petition has been approved, can stall or even end the process. This could force the immigrant to start all over again with a new sponsor. Under certain circumstances, such as when the immigrant is a battered spouse or the child of an abused spouse looking to flee an abusive U.S. citizen spouse, the immigrant may be able to self-petition for immigration.