United States citizens with family members who want to emigrate from another country sometimes make the decision to support an application for an immigrant visa or for legal permanent residency. In supporting such an application, the U.S. citizen has to attest that he or she will support the applicant financially. Most people who are supporting a family member’s application do not necessarily think of the implications of the promise to support the application, but the promise is legally enforceable.
The document that the U.S. citizen signs to support a person applying for permanent residence is known as an affidavit of support. The affidavit of support requires the U.S. citizen, who is referred to as a sponsor for purposes of the affidavit, to promise that he or she will support the person making the application for a period of time. This time period can be 10 years or longer. The affidavit of support is legally enforceable and is relied on when the government makes the decision on the application.
The sponsor is required to provide a copy of his or her tax return and proof of income when filing the affidavit of support. The spouse has to show that he or she has income that is equal to 125% of the U.S. poverty level for his household size. If the sponsor does not have the required income, he or she can count the value of assets, and the income of others in his household. If the sponsor does not meet the income and assets requirements, it is possible that the application will be denied unless there is a co-sponsor.
If the applicant is granted legal permanent residence or an immigrant visa that allows him or her to live and work in the U.S., the sponsor does not really provide the person’s day-to-day support. The legal permanent resident works towards supporting him or herself, and at the same time accumulates work credits. When enough work credits are earned, the sponsor is released from the obligation to support the person.
The sponsor is also released from the obligation when the sponsored person leaves the country or becomes a U.S. citizen. However, divorce does not mean that the sponsor is no longer financially responsible. A sponsor can still be held financially responsible for a former spouse.
However, if the legal permanent resident falls on hard times and has to apply for means tested public assistance, the sponsor can be asked to repay any benefits paid to the legal permanent resident. In some cases, the government agency that paid out the benefits may sue the sponsor to recover the benefits.
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If you are considering acting as a sponsor for a relative, it is important to understand the obligation of sponsorship. However, in many cases, the sponsored applicant who receives the opportunity to work in the U.S. can provide this or her own support and even provide support to the sponsor. For more information on how to sponsor a relative’s application for an immigrant visa or for legal permanent residence, you should contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.