As part of your application for a green card, you'll need to prove to the U.S. government that you have access to enough resources to support yourself financially. If your application is for a marriage green card, your spouse must submit an Affidavit of Support to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS has set financial thresholds that you must meet to become a lawful permanent resident. To help you meet the financial requirements, you can have a joint sponsor for your green card application. This article explains who a joint sponsor is, how to know if you'll need one, the requirements of joint sponsorship, and the process of becoming a green card joint sponsor.
Who is a joint sponsor?
A joint sponsor is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who makes a legal commitment to help your spouse to financially support you if you get a marriage-based green card. This person acts as insurance for the U.S. government that you will not become dependent on public benefits (public charge).
Do you need a joint sponsor for your green card application?
Generally, a joint sponsor is necessary if your primary green card sponsor does not meet the minimum financial requirements regarding their assets and/or household income. For marriage-based green card applications, the primary sponsor is your spouse.
Your spouse must make at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for your household size and location. For a couple that lives in the mainland United States with no children, the minimum annual income is $21,775.
If your spouse’s income is too low, they can use assets to qualify. However, the assets must equal five times the difference between the sponsor's income and the minimum income requirement. This requirement can mean a lot of money, and having a joint sponsor can help offset this.
Another common reason to have a joint sponsor is if the primary sponsor's income for their most recent tax filing meets the requirement, but their income for the previous year did not. Finally, you can also use a joint sponsor if your primary sponsor uses their non-U.S. income to qualify, but that income is reflected as a loss on their federal income tax return, IRS Form 1040. The income must be positive on a tax return to qualify.
Who can be a green card joint sponsor?
A co-sponsor must meet all of the following eligibility requirements:
- Be a U.S. citizen or green card holder
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Reside in the United States or U.S. territory
- Have a total income equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level for their household size and location for both the most recent tax filing year and current year
- Be willing to accept joint liability with the sponsoring spouse to provide financial support for you, the sponsored immigrant seeking a green card
Anyone who meets these requirements can be a joint sponsor. They do not have to be related to either your sponsoring spouse or you. They can be a friend or family member and don’t have to live with you. If they do live with your spouse, they need to fill out Form I-864A, named “Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.”
What are the responsibilities of a joint sponsor?
The joint sponsor ensures that you, the intending immigrant, will have enough financial support not to become a public charge. These are the joint sponsor’s responsibilities:
- Provide you with financial support
The co-sponsor is equally responsible as your sponsoring spouse for financially supporting you. Financial support means, along with your primary sponsor, they are responsible for maintaining a minimum annual income of at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. However, they are not responsible for your taxes or private debt, such as credit card bills or rent. They are also not responsible for any of your encounters with law enforcement.
- Reimburse government agencies for the use of public benefits
This rule does not mean you cannot use any public assistance benefits available to you. The public charge rule has different regulations on cash assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income, compared to non-cash and “special-purposes” cash assistance, such as Medicaid and unemployment benefits. You can examine U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rules to determine which benefits you can use.
Suppose you use certain benefits from a federal, state, or local government agency before the joint sponsor's financial obligations end. In that case, both your sponsoring spouse and joint sponsor are responsible for repaying the government agency. Again, this does not necessarily apply to all benefits.
It’s important to note that some government agencies count the financial sponsor’s income as your own when deciding whether you are eligible for public benefits. The government may deny you certain benefits or provide you with a lower amount.
- Update their address
Until the joint sponsor's obligations end, they must notify USCIS every time they change their address. They need to fill out the separate Form I-865, known as "Sponsor's Notice of Change of Address," within 30 days of moving.
The joint sponsor’s responsibilities end if any of these circumstances apply to you:
- You become a U.S. citizen
- You work for 40 quarters (10 years) in the United States
- You are no longer a green card holder and leave the United States
- You die
- You get a new green card after facing deportation proceedings
If your joint sponsor dies, their obligations end. However, if they owed you any financial support before their death, the state may require payment to you from their estate, if applicable.
If you and your spouse divorce, the joint sponsor’s obligations are not over.
What happens if the joint sponsor can't fulfill their obligations?
Many things can happen if your joint sponsor can’t fulfill their obligations.
If your joint sponsor fails to provide financial support, you can file a lawsuit against or sue the sponsor to obtain the money you need. The legal nature of the joint sponsorship allows you to force them to provide the difference between your income and 125% of the federal poverty level. However, few green card holders have brought lawsuits against sponsors, and most were against former spouses.
Secondly, if your joint sponsor fails to reimburse the government for public benefits, the government agency may sue the sponsor to obtain the money, including collection costs and legal fees. This legal proceeding is generally rare.
Additionally, if your joint sponsor doesn’t update their address, they may be fined any amount between $250 to $5,000, depending on whether it was intentional.
How to become a green card joint sponsor
A person must meet specific income requirements to be a joint sponsor. They need to have a total income equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level for the most recent tax filing and the current year. This poverty level is specific to their household size and location. A joint sponsor's income can include the same types of income as a sponsoring spouse. This income includes wages, salaries, retirement benefits, and alimony.
The sponsor can also include any income or assets from the sponsor's household. Their household could consist of adult children, adult siblings, or parents. To qualify as a household member, the joint sponsor must have claimed them as a dependent on their most recent federal income tax return or have lived with them for the past six months.
Each household member whose income or assets combine with the joint sponsor’s to meet the requirements must also fill out Form I-864A, under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
- Proof of income (and assets, if applicable)
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or green card holder status
- Proof of U.S. “domicile” or residence (pay stubs, mortgage statements, U.S. bank statements, registering children in U.S. schools)
- If relevant, Form I-864A from any dependents or household members combining their income or assets with the joint sponsor’s
Adding a joint sponsor to your green card application can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!