I can't afford a trip to the U.S. on my own. Can a relative sponsor me?

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Question:

I want to visit my family in New York for vacation, but I’m in school, have very little savings, and can’t afford the trip on my own. My cousin is a U.S. citizen, and she told me that she would pay for my plane ticket and my expenses while I’m in the United States. How can I show that she will sponsor my visit?

Answer:

In order to be eligible for a B-2 tourist visa – or to enter the U.S. without a visa, as a visitor on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) – you must have the ability to pay for your expenses such as food, lodging, and transportation, as well as your ticket back home. The reason for this is that the U.S. government wants to ensure that visitors to the U.S. will not need to rely on public benefits (or welfare) during their stay.

However, immigration officials understand that many foreign tourists don’t have incomes on par with those of U.S. residents. This is why you can have a friend or relative who is a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or lawfully admitted nonimmigrant “sponsor” your trip. For a full explanation of who is eligible to apply for a tourist visa, see Nolo’s article “A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?”

You should bring evidence with you to the U.S. consulate where you will apply for your visa (or to the border official if visiting on the VWP) that you have been invited to visit the U.S. by your cousin and that she has offered to support you. You will also need to show that your cousin has adequate financial resources to pay your expenses during your vacation. Although there is no “magic number” of personal worth that a B visa sponsor must show (unlike other types of visas), it is recommended that he or she can prove that she has salary, income, and other assets totaling 100% of the amount listed for the corresponding family size in the federal Poverty Guidelines.

You should have your cousin send you the following items:

  • A completed and signed Form I-134, Affidavit of Support, and supporting documentation. This is the best evidence that you will not become a “public charge” during your U.S. visit. Your sponsor must attach documents to prove that he or she has enough income and other assets to take care of you. This can include bank statements showing the full amount on deposit, a letter from her employer (on business stationery) confirming your sponsor’s salary, pay stubs, tax returns, and deeds for personal property. For more advice on completing an Affidavit of Support, see “Tips on Filling Out Form I-134 for a Fiance Visa.”
  • An “invitation letter” written by your sponsor: This letter (which can be an email) will ask you to come to the U.S. and offer pay for the cost of the trip and your expenses. If you cannot read English, have your sponsor write it in your native language and provide an English translation, which the translator has certified as complete and accurate and that he or she is competent to translate into English. See “Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications” for further tips.
  • A letter to the U.S. consulate (or border official) written by your sponsor: This letter, written in English and signed by your sponsor, should list your full name and explain the purpose of your trip (for example, to sightsee or attend a family function), the length of stay, and how she intends to support you. Ideally, she should agree to provide you with lodging, meals, transportation, and spending money.

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