Visa Sponsorship, Explained
Learn how family members and employers can sponsor immigrants for U.S. visas or green cards
What is Visa Sponsorship?
Can an individual, organization, or company help someone immigrate to the United States? Visa sponsorship refers to the process in which an individual or organization in the U.S. agrees to support or sponsor a foreign national’s visa or green card application and provide the necessary documentation to the U.S. government. The sponsor takes on certain responsibilities and obligations to ensure that the sponsored individual complies with U.S. immigration laws and regulations.
There are different types of U.S. visas and green cards that may require sponsorship, such as employment-based visas, family-based visas, and certain temporary work visas. The specific requirements and processes vary depending on the visa category.
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Family-based sponsorship in U.S. immigration allows a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder) to sponsor a family member for immigration to the U.S. Eligible family members can therefore obtain immigrant visas or green cards and join their U.S. citizen or green card holder relatives in the U.S.
The U.S. immigration system recognizes two main categories for family-based sponsorship:
- Immediate Relative Category: This category is reserved for the closest relatives of U.S. citizens and includes the following relationships:
- Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- Unmarried child under 21 years old of a U.S. citizen
- Parent of a U.S. citizen (if the sponsor is at least 21 years old)
Immediate relatives have certain advantages, such as not being subject to numerical limitations and visa backlogs. This means that visas are always available for immediate relatives, and they can generally proceed with their immigration process more quickly.
- Family Preference Category: This category includes more distant family relationships and is subject to numerical limitations each year, which generally result in longer wait times. The family preference categories are as follows:
- F1: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children
- F2A: Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of lawful permanent residents
- F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or older) of lawful permanent residents
- F3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children
- F4: Siblings of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children (the U.S. citizen sponsor must be at least 21 years old)
To sponsor a family member, the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must file a petition on their behalf. The specific form required depends on the relationship with the beneficiary, but some of the most common forms are Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support). The sponsor must establish the familial relationship and also meet certain eligibility criteria, such as proving a certain level of income and a lack of criminal history.
Once the petition is approved, the sponsored family member may proceed with the application for an immigrant visa via “consular processing” or adjustment of status to obtain a green card, depending on their location and circumstances.
It’s important to note that the family-based sponsorship process can be complex, and there may be additional requirements and documentation needed for specific cases. Boundless has helped more than 100,000 people reach their immigration goals. We’ll be your visa planning partner from beginning to end. Get started today!
Employment-based sponsorship in U.S. immigration refers to the process by which a U.S. employer sponsors a foreign worker for a visa or green card to work or live permanently in the U.S. The employer takes on the responsibility of demonstrating that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the position and supports the foreign worker’s application for immigration benefits.
There are several employment-based visa categories, each with its own requirements and processes. You can learn more about the most common types of work visas in Boundless’ guide.
Under employment-based sponsorship, the employer sponsoring the foreign worker is generally responsible for submitting the necessary forms, supporting documents, and fees to the U.S. government. One of the most common forms submitted for employment-based sponsorship is Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker). The process also involves demonstrating the unavailability of qualified U.S. workers, providing evidence of the job offer, verifying the employee’s qualifications, and complying with labor market and recruitment requirements, depending on the visa category.
Once the petition is approved, the foreign worker may proceed with applying for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or consulate or adjusting their status to obtain a green card if already in the U.S.
Financial Sponsorship (Humanitarian Programs)
Aside from family-based and employment-based sponsorship, there is an additional type of sponsorship which allows individuals and organizations to sponsor foreign nationals for entry to the U.S., even if they are not family members or a sponsoring employer. Certain humanitarian programs allow for financial sponsorship, where an individual or organization in the U.S. assumes financial responsibility for a program recipient. Financial sponsorship is currently accepted for two specific immigration programs:
- Sponsorship for Ukrainian refugees as part of the Uniting for Ukraine program
- Sponsorship for Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan migrants as part of the new humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans
For humanitarian parole programs, financial sponsorship involves demonstrating the ability to financially support the sponsored individual either through the sponsor’s personal income, assets, or other means of support. The U.S. government requires that recipients of humanitarian parole have the necessary financial resources to support themselves or their dependents during their time in the U.S.
It’s important to note that financial sponsorship does not guarantee approval of a humanitarian parole application. The sponsored individual still needs to meet all other eligibility criteria for the specific program and go through the necessary application process. You can learn more about humanitarian parole in Boundless’ guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
In most cases, obtaining a U.S. work visa typically requires a sponsoring employer. However, there are a few limited situations where individuals may be eligible for a work visa without a sponsoring employer. These work visas include:
- Extraordinary Ability (EB-1A): If you possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, you may be eligible for an EB-1A visa. This category does not require a sponsoring employer, as you can self-petition by demonstrating sustained national or international acclaim in your field.
- National Interest Waiver (NIW): Under the EB-2 category, individuals with exceptional abilities who can demonstrate that their work is in the national interest of the United States may qualify for a National Interest Waiver. This allows you to self-petition and waive the labor certification process, which typically requires employer sponsorship.
- Self-Employment or Entrepreneurship: If you plan to start your own business in the United States and can demonstrate that it will create jobs for U.S. workers or have a significant impact on the economy, you may be eligible for certain visa categories such as the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa or the O-1 Visa for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.
Family-based sponsors are legally obligated to demonstrate that they have the financial means to support the intended immigrant and prevent them from becoming a “public charge”. In some instances, the sponsor may be responsible for repaying the U.S. government for certain public benefits used by the immigrant (such as Supplemental Insurance Income, or SSI, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF).
Sponsors are generally not responsible for beneficiaries’ taxes and private debts (such as credit card payments, medical bills, or housing costs).
Under family-based sponsorship, no. The U.S. government only recognizes specific familial relationships for immigration purposes.
For family-based sponsorship, the sponsor’s obligations under the Affidavit of Support end only when one of four things happen:
- The death of either the sponsor or the beneficiary.
- The beneficiary becomes a U.S. citizen.
- The beneficiary has worked in the U.S. for at least 10 years.
- The beneficiary leaves the U.S. permanently.
Sponsoring an immigrant typically does not directly affect your credit score or credit history. The act of sponsoring itself is not reported to credit bureaus, and it generally does not impact credit assessment by lenders.
Rescinding sponsorship of an immigrant can be a complex matter and may have legal and financial consequences. The specific process and options for rescinding sponsorship depend on the immigration category and the stage of the sponsorship process. It may be possible to withdraw sponsorship if an application is still pending with the U.S. government. If an application has already been approved, the sponsor will need to reach out to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) directly to submit a formal cancellation request.