Strategies When an Immigrant's Sponsor's Income and Assets Are Too Low

What if all of the income and assets of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner who is attempting to sponsor a family immigrant isn’t enough to meet the required levels according to U.S. Poverty Guidelines? Here are some possibilities for making up the financial shortfalls.

By , J.D.

What if all of the income and assets of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner who is attempting to sponsor a family immigrant isn't enough to meet the required minimum levels according to U.S. Poverty Guidelines? Below are some possibilities for making up the financial shortfalls.

Recognize, however, that changes to the regulations made during the Trump Administration have resulted in a situation where immigrants can be found inadmissible as likely "public charges" even after showing that the sponsor has a sufficiently high income. The U.S. government will now look at the totality of the circumstances, taking into account factors like whether the immigrant will have a source of health insurance, has high-level education or skills, or has received past benefits while living in the U.S., before making its decision.

Sponsor Finds a New Job

If you don't wish to rely on friends and relatives, the U.S. citizen sponsor, or the immigrant if living in the United States with a legal right to work, might have to find an additional job or a job with better pay and benefits. Obviously, improving your financial situation will not be easy. It could mean a long job search, moving to another city, dropping out of school for a while, or giving up enjoyable work or time with the children.

But here's the reason this advice isn't totally crazy: After you are approved for your green card there is no obligation that you or your spouse stay with the new job. USCIS will not send inspectors to your or your spouse's workplace or check up on you. If you and your family can survive on less than the U.S. government thinks is possible, that's your choice—so long as you do not receive need-based government assistance (go on "welfare") for the first five years after green card approval.

The way the law works, you wouldn't face any repercussions for post-approval reductions in your family's income until and unless the immigrant tried to apply for need-based public assistance. He or she would probably be denied the benefits—or forced to pay them back later.

If you don't find out until the visa or green card interview that the case cannot be approved without showing more financial support, you might be given a time limit within which to send in new evidence. The time limit could approach all too quickly while the sponsor looks for a better job, health insurance, or other source of family support.

If the deadline is about to arrive and you have nothing new to show, at least send a letter saying that you are still interested in pursuing the application. Ask for more time to provide the requested documents and evidence.

If you are in the United States, it is especially important to send such a letter, because once USCIS denies the application, it will transfer the case to the Immigration Court for removal proceedings (if the immigrant doesn't have a legal status that remains valid, for instance an unexpired I-94 based on a visa).

The consulates and USCIS will typically give you a total of six months to a year after your interview before declaring the application dead.

Ask Household Members to Help Out

If the sponsor cannot meet the financial minimum alone, the first step is to see if another member of the household in the U.S. is willing to contribute income and assets to the mix. A household member is someone who:
  • was listed as a dependent or joint filer on the sponsor's latest tax return, or
  • is related to and shares a residence (home) with the sponsor.

The household member agrees to support the immigrant by signing a supplemental Form I-864A. One nice thing about using a household member's income is that it has to be only enough to make up the shortfall in the main sponsor's income.

However, the potential household joint sponsors should realize that if for any reason the main sponsor doesn't support the immigrant, the joint sponsors can be made to provide the full support amount. (The form itself supposedly warns the signer with the following legal jargon: "I, the Household Member, … Agree to be jointly and severally liable for payment of any and all obligations owed by the sponsor ….")

Ask for Help From an Independent Joint Sponsor

If no one in the sponsor's household can help boost the sponsor's income and assets, you can look for a joint sponsor outside the household. Each sponsor needs to meet the basic sponsorship requirements. An independent joint sponsor must also be pretty well off financially.

Unlike household joint sponsors, joint sponsors who live outside the household will need to earn enough to cover the entire Poverty Guidelines minimum requirement for their own household and for the incoming immigrant or immigrants (if children will also be coming). The joint sponsor cannot simply make up the main sponsor's shortfall. It is as though they were the sole sponsor.

In fact, they must sign a separate Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Like the household joint sponsor, an independent sponsor can be held 100% responsible for supporting the immigrant.

If there is more than one incoming immigrant, there can be up to two joint sponsors. This can be helpful, for example, where the incoming immigrants include an adult and two children, and neither of the joint sponsors earn enough to meet the minimum Poverty Guidelines for all three immigrants. As long as one of these joint sponsors earns enough to meet the Poverty Guidelines minimum for one immigrant, and the other joint sponsor earns enough to meet the Poverty Guidelines minimum for the other two immigrants, the I-864 requirements are met.

Although independent joint sponsors must meet the entire Poverty Guidelines minimum on their own, they at least will not be responsible for supporting people in the immigrant's household other than the immigrant(s). To meet the Poverty Guidelines requirements as a joint sponsor, don't just add up the number of people in the two households. Instead, add only the number of people in the joint sponsor's household plus the number of new immigrants.

Immigrant Gets a Job Offer in the U.S.

Technically, a U.S. job offer for the immigrant is not supposed to count when U.S. immigration authorities assess the U.S. sponsor's ability to support the immigrant (as well as members of her own household) at a level that meets the 125% of Poverty Guidelines minimum.

All that said, if the immigrant does receive a job offer with a set salary in the United States, it's a good idea to provide documentation of this during the application process. If your case is on the edge, it might tip the decision maker toward recognizing that the immigrant is truly unlikely to become a public charge, and approving the immigrant visa or green card rather than demanding more documentation or an additional sponsor.

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