An Immigration Lawyer Explains Financial Sponsorship to the USA
Many Immigrants to the USA Need a Financial Sponsor
Unless someone immigrates to the United States on the basis of work, he or she will likely need a financial sponsor to the US. For many the financial sponsorship requirements of US immigration law are like navigating a minefield. The requisite forms are confusing. The terminology is awkward, even for native English speakers. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has actually given courses on how to fill out the forms. So, how does it work?
Financial Sponsor to the USA for Family Members
If a person is immigrating to the the United States on the basis of family relationships, then the sponsoring family member must be the financial sponsor to the US. Let’s assume the husband is a US citizen living in Israel, and he applies for immigration to the US for his Israeli wife. The husband must file an affidavit of support for his wife. However, because he lives and works in Israel, his income in Israel is disregarded for the purpose of sponsorship. There are only limited exceptions to this rule. Alternatively, if they as a family can show approximately 250,000 NIS in a bank account or investments, then his sponsorship will likely be deemed sufficient by the US Embassy. If the US citizen sponsor is applying for someone other than his spouse or minor children, the amount of savings required is substantially higher.
In addition to the above, the US citizen sponsor must show he has filed US income tax returns for the past three years. According to US tax law, US citizens or permanent residents must file US income tax returns every year, even if they live outside of the US and earn all their income from non-US companies. In most cases, US citizens and permanent residents must also file a foreign asset return (FBAR) every year. On the affidavit of support for his spouse, the US citizen must indicate his income for the past three years, as reported on his US income tax returns. Additionally, he must provide his last US tax return with the affidavit of support. A further complicating factor is that one cannot file US tax returns without a US Social Security number. A person also needs a Social Security number to file the affidavit of support.
If a family does not have the above level of savings, then they can find a joint sponsor in the US. This financial sponsor to the US can be anyone, but the person must earn a certain level of income to qualify. The level of income depends upon how many dependents the joint sponsor has. If, for instance, the joint sponsor is unmarried and has no other dependents, then he or she must earn approximately $20,000 per year. The more dependents the sponsor has, the higher the level of income required. In addition, the sponsor must provide income tax information on the affidavit of support and supply his last year’s tax return.
While the amount of income required to be a joint sponsor is not very high, especially for US standards, many individuals are wary of becoming joint sponsors because of the legal ramifications. A sponsor or joint sponsor guarantees to the US government that he will be liable to the government for any public benefits the immigrant receives over the lesser of ten years or when the immigrant becomes a US citizen.
Financial Sponsor to the USA for Winners of the Visa Lottery Program
Unbeknownst to many, the winners of the visa lottery program are also often required to provide an affidavit of support from someone else. It’s a different form from a family immigrant visa and the standards are lower, but the requirement often catches visa lottery winners by surprise. In these cases the US Embassy must ensure the visa lottery winner will not become a public charge of the US. Consequently, they must show either substantial personal assets or income from a US resident.
Bottom line, many applicants for immigration to the US assume they can file the petitions themselves, but then get trapped by the complex financial sponsorship rules.
We at Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh law firm have many years of experience in US immigration and tax laws.
If you have any questions regarding a financial sponsor to the USA or immigration to the United States in general, please contact us.