I just came across this classified ad on Craigslist seeking a joint sponsor for the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support:
My income is not enough…. I need someone to co-sign for my mother. Of course I will pay for your services $ 1000. Half with verification of your papers and signing (Form I-864) and other half when she arrives…. I will be the main sponsor, and you do not have to do anything else.
I initially assumed this classified ad was a novel approach to the affidavit of support problem. But then I found immigration lawyer Greg McLawsen’s blog touching on a similar ad:
Affidavit of support co-sponser needed
I know this is a long shot but I have tried everything else, so I have decided to come here to see if I can find someone with a good heart that is willing to help my family…. I work full time and go to school but I still don’t make enough to petition for my husband on my own. Please I beg if you are willing to help and make over 125% of the poverty guideline please contact me.
The petitioner who files a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is normally required to also file a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. (Some exceptions apply). The form must be accompanied by federal individual income tax returns for the most recent 3 years or an explanation of why the sponsor was not legally obligated to file tax returns. To be sufficient, the I-864 must show that the petitioner’s current household income (including the sponsored immigrant) is at least 125% of the Federal poverty guidelines. The policy underlying this requirement is that a sponsor should take responsibility to ensure that the sponsored immigrant doesn’t become a “public charge,” i.e., rely on means-tested public benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
But this I-864 requirement can be a hardship for petitioners with limited means. One strategy is to find a “joint sponsor.” Most often a relative of friend serves as the joint sponsor, as attorney McLawsen points out. But I’m not aware of any law or guidance from the government prohibiting a stranger from acting as an I-864 joint sponsor or a petitioner from paying for this service. Still, exercise extreme caution:
- The joint sponsor must be a U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident, age 18 or older, and domiciled in the United States. He or she must execute a separate Form I-864 and submit tax returns, as mentioned above. He or she must satisfy the income requirements independently. In other words, the petitioner and joint sponsor may not pool their income to arrive at a total that satisfies the income threshold.
- Use of a joint sponsor does not relieve the petitioner from the responsibility to meet the sponsorship requirements, file federal income tax returns for the three most recent years (if legally required to do so), and file a Form I-864.
- The petitioner has no real way to vet the joint sponsor’s financial documents. For example, if the joint sponsor is running a scam, he or she may have previously sponsored multiple immigrants but falsely claim on the I-864 to have sponsored none. The petitioner can’t independently confirm this (short of a FOIA request with the joint sponsor’s consent). The misrepresentation may be discovered by the government only after the green card is issued, in which case permanent resident status may be rescinded or the immigrant may be subject to removal proceedings.
- The I-864 is a binding contract between the joint sponsor and the Federal government. It can be enforced by either the sponsored immigrant or a government agency seeking reimbursement of certain benefits to the sponsored immigrants. A joint sponsor’s obligations last for an indefinite period of time. So a joint sponsor’s potential liability is significant. The amount is also unpredictable, especially if the joint sponsor hasn’t vetted the finances of the petitioner and sponsored immigrant.
- The joint sponsor may want to consider entering into agreements with the sponsor and the sponsored immigrant waiving any liability to them and seeking indemnification from them if any government agency seeks reimbursement from the joint sponsor for benefits received by the sponsored immigrant. It’s not clear that such agreements are enforceable, but it may be worth a try.
- An immigration official may not give much evidentiary weight to a Form I-864 by a sponsor who is a stranger. Officials can ask about the relationship between the parties. The reasoning for giving a stranger’s Form I-864 little weight would be that despite the legal obligation to support the sponsored immigrant, the sponsor may not be wiling to do so. In short, a stranger’s Form I-864 may not be sufficient to qualify for immigration, in the eyes of some officials.
So, to my surprise, classified ads for a joint sponsor are a “thing.” But proceed, if at all, only after exhausting other options and only with extreme caution.
For more about the Form I-864, see the Affidavit of Support Help Center, where you can read more, ask questions, and consult with an immigration lawyer.