What Is a Green Card Joint Sponsor?
The responsibilities of a financial co-sponsor on an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864)
What is a joint sponsor?
A joint sponsor — or a financial co-sponsor — is a U.S. citizen or green card holder (permanent resident) who agrees to take on the legal obligation of financially supporting an applicant for a family-based green card. Enlisting the help of a joint sponsor is typically an option when the income (and assets, if any) of the “primary sponsor” and their household alone cannot meet the minimum financial requirement for a family-based green card.
Many prospective joint sponsors are understandably concerned about the legal commitment involved in this arrangement. But there’s no need to worry! The joint sponsor’s obligations have an expiration date, and it’s rare for joint sponsors to ever actually need to provide financial support. Joint sponsorship is essentially an insurance policy for the U.S. government in the unlikely event that the primary sponsor cannot fulfill their financial obligation to the future green card holder.
Throughout the rest of this article, we will focus just on joint sponsors for spouses seeking a marriage-based green card.
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When a Joint Sponsor Is Needed
A joint sponsor is typically needed when the sponsoring spouse (primary sponsor) and their household do not have sufficient income and/or assets to satisfy the minimum financial requirement for a marriage-based green card.
Other common reasons:
- The primary sponsor’s income for the most recent tax filing year meets the requirement, but their income for the previous tax year does not.
- The primary sponsor uses non-U.S. income to qualify, but that income is reflected as a loss (negative) on their IRS Form 1040 (federal individual income tax return). Income used for sponsorship generally must be positive on a tax return.
The minimum required income for most sponsors is 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household size and location. For a couple who live in the 48 contiguous states (mainland United States) and have no children, the required minimum annual income is currently $24,650. If income is too low, then assets can be used — but these assets must equal 5 times the difference between the joint sponsor’s income and the minimum required income.
Boundless has a detailed guide on the income and asset requirements by location for different household sizes. This guide also includes information about the types of income and assets that a joint sponsor can use to meet the financial requirement.
Boundless takes your green card application forms, including the financial sponsorship form, and turns them into simple questions you can answer online, typically in under two hours, compared with days or weeks the traditional way. Learn more about what Boundless can do to help.
Responsibilities of a Joint Sponsor
Having a joint sponsor helps to ensure that the spouse seeking a green card will receive enough financial support to cover basic living needs and prevent them from becoming a “public charge” — that is, dependent on government benefits — upon arriving in the United States. To that end, the joint sponsor must fulfill a number of obligations until those obligations end.
What are the obligations of a joint sponsor?
1. Providing financial support: Being a joint sponsor means being equally responsible as the sponsoring spouse (the primary sponsor) for financially supporting the marriage-based green card holder. That is, they must maintain a minimum annual income of 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household size until their obligations to the green card holder end (see below).
2. Reimbursing the government for use of public benefits: The purpose of having a financial co-sponsor is to prevent the marriage-based green card holder from becoming a “public charge,” (what is a public charge).
Important Update – 2022:
In 2022, the Biden administration proposed its own version of the public charge rule, which is currently now in effect. The 2022 rule mirrors the original 1999 Interim Field Guidance by defining a public charge as someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” by either (a) using public cash assistance to maintain income or (b) institutionalization for long-term care at the government’s expense.
This does not mean, however, that all public assistance benefits are off limits to the marriage-based green card holder. The government distinguishes between benefits that make a person a public charge — cash assistance (for example, Supplemental Security Income, or “SSI”) — and benefits that don’t — noncash assistance and “special-purpose” cash assistance (such as Medicaid and unemployment compensation).
If the green card holder receives “public charge” benefits from a federal, state, or local government agency before the joint sponsor’s obligations end, the joint sponsor and the sponsoring spouse may need to repay the amount of those benefits to the agency.
If the green card holder receives “non-public charge” benefits, the joint sponsor and sponsoring spouse will not have to repay their value to the government. Some government agencies may also count the joint sponsor’s income as the green card holder’s income, however, when deciding whether to provide benefits and the appropriate amount. In other words, if the joint sponsor’s income meets 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (or other percentage, depending on the specific agency’s application criteria) for their household size, which would include the green card holder, then the green card holder may be denied benefits or receive a lower amount.
3. Updating your address: Until the joint sponsor’s obligations end (see below), they must notify USCIS every time they move. They must provide their new address on Form I-865 (officially called the “Sponsor’s Notice of Change of Address”) within 30 days after relocating.
What are not obligations of the joint sponsor?
A joint sponsor is not responsible for:
- The marriage-based green card holder’s taxes and private debts (such as credit card, medical, or student loan debt, mortgage, or rent)
- The marriage-based green card holder’s encounters with law enforcement
When will those obligations start?
The joint sponsor’s obligations begin only upon approval of the marriage-based green card.
A joint sponsor’s responsibilities terminate when the marriage-based green card holder experiences any of the following:
- Becomes a U.S. citizen
- Has worked 40 quarters (10 years) in the United States
- Is no longer a green card holder and has left the United States (known officially as “abandonment of permanent residence”)
- Is deceased
- Is approved for a new green card after being placed in removal (deportation) proceedings
The joint sponsor’s death also ends their obligations. If they owed any support to the marriage-based green card holder before the joint sponsor died, however, the joint sponsor’s estate, if any, may be required to pay those debts.
A joint sponsor’s obligations would continue, however, should the sponsoring spouse and marriage-based green card holder end their relationship by divorce.
What happens if the joint sponsor does not fulfill their obligations?
In the event of…
Failure to provide financial support, the marriage-based green card holder may file a lawsuit against the sponsors in order to collect the support they need. In other words, the green card holder could sue the joint sponsor in order to receive the difference between the green card holder’s income (if any) and 125% of the poverty guidelines, whether the green card holder’s income simply fell below that level or the sponsor did not provide that support.
Let’s assume, for instance, that the green card holder lost their job. In this case, the green card holder could sue the joint sponsor for the amount that would bring the green card holder’s income up to that threshold. Few such lawsuits, however, have ever been brought against sponsors, and all were against former spouses, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), a nonprofit group advocating for immigrant rights.
Failure to reimburse the government for use of public benefits, the agency that provided these benefits may sue the sponsors to the collect that money, including collection costs and legal fees. According to the ILRC, “In practice, there have been few government actions to obtain reimbursements for these benefits.” (But again, see our public charge explainer for the latest details.)
Failure to update their address, they may be fined between $250 and more than $5,000, depending on whether they simply neglected to update the government or had knowledge that the marriage-based green card holder received public benefits that would need to be repaid to the government.
How to Become a Joint Sponsor
A joint sponsor must meet all of the same requirements as a sponsoring spouse. In other words, they may not combine their income and assets with those of the sponsoring spouse (and that spouse’s household) to meet the minimum income requirement.
They must also complete and sign Form I-864, officially called the “Affidavit of Support.” (The sponsoring spouse must complete a separate copy of this form).
What are the requirements for a joint sponsor?
To qualify, an I-864 joint sponsor must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be a U.S. citizen or green card holder
- Be at least 18 years old
- Reside in the United States or a U.S. territory but not in either spouse’s household
- Have total household income equal to at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Level
- Guidelines for their household size and location (for both the most recent tax filing year and the current year)
- Be willing to accept joint liability with the sponsoring spouse for financially supporting the spouse seeking a green card
Anyone who meets the above requirements can be a joint sponsor. They do not need to be related to either the sponsoring spouse or the spouse seeking a green card. A joint sponsor can be a friend or family member. They do not have to live with either spouse, but if they do, they need to fill out Form I-864A (officially called the “Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member”).
To help meet the minimum annual income requirement for financial sponsorship, a joint sponsor may also include income and assets from members of their own household, such as:
- Adult children
- Adult siblings
To qualify as a household member, such relatives must have either been claimed as a dependent on the joint sponsor’s most recent individual federal income tax return or lived with them for the past 6 months. The joint sponsor may also include any adult they claimed as a dependent but did not live with them.
Each household member or adult dependent must complete Form I-864A if they combine their income and/or assets with the joint sponsor’s to meet the minimum annual income requirement. Both the household member/adult dependent and the joint sponsor must sign this form and attach it to the joint sponsor’s Form I-864.
How many joint sponsors are allowed?
A spouse seeking a green card may enlist up to 2 joint sponsors, in addition to the sponsoring spouse (the primary sponsor). A second joint sponsor, however, is usually necessary only when there are multiple individuals listed on a single green card application (for example, if the spouse seeking a green card is bringing their children), thus requiring a higher minimum annual income. The second joint sponsor would agree to financially support the remaining applicants that the primary sponsor and first joint sponsor could not.
What types of income can the joint sponsor use to meet the financial requirement?
A joint sponsor may include the same types of income — such as wages and salaries, retirement benefits, and alimony — that a sponsoring spouse may use. See our guide to income requirements for more information.
The documents required for a joint sponsor are the same as those required of a sponsoring spouse (the primary sponsor). Please refer to our guide on the documents needed for a marriage-based green card for the full list.
They generally include the following:
- Proof of income (and assets, if any)
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or green card holder status
- If relevant, Form I-864A completed by each individual who will combine their income and/or assets with the joint sponsor’s to meet the minimum annual income requirement
Joint Sponsor FAQs
Because Boundless is not a law firm, we would not be able to assist or represent a joint sponsor with any claims made against them by a local, state, or federal government agency (to recover public assistance benefits) or by the marriage-based green card holder (to claim support). Neither could the independent immigration attorney assigned to a Boundless customer (and their spouse) nor any law firm representing the couple, as this would present a conflict of interest. In other words, the independent attorney or law firm engaged by the couple would have no obligation to the joint sponsor, who is not their client.
In this case, the joint sponsor would need to hire their own independent attorney to represent their interests in the unlikely event of a lawsuit or to help them understand the risks of joint sponsorship and review the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864).
With that in mind, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) can help find a licensed immigration attorney near you.
Alternatively, the U.S. Department of Justice accredits certain nonprofit organizations that provide low-cost or free immigration legal services.