In May of 2019, the President issued a memorandum that emphasized the legal responsibilities of a financial sponsor, and the potential enforcement actions the government can take. Since 1997, U.S. laws have required that an intending immigrant have a sponsor, which usually is the petitioner, and a joint sponsor if the petitioner does not qualify. In order to qualify to be a sponsor, the sponsor must be over the age of 18, be working lawfully, and demonstrate that they can maintain an annual income of at least 125% of the poverty guideline for their household size. There are different rules if the sponsor is an active armed service member, or if the sponsor owns assets in lieu of an income. The sponsor will have to sign the appropriate Form I-864.
The reason behind the sponsor requirement is because U.S. laws state that in order to be eligible to immigrate, or to not be inadmissible, one cannot become a public charge. So, the sponsor is signing an “affidavit of support,” in which the sponsor is signing a contract with the government where the sponsor is agreeing to support the intending alien during the time that the affidavit is enforceable. The period of enforceability is until the immigrant because a naturalized citizen of the U.S. or after the immigrant works 40 qualifying quarters. Generally, the 40 qualifying quarters equals 10 years of work where taxes were paid on wages.
Enforcement of such a contract is possible if the government so wishes to pursue action. Enforcement can begin if the immigrant received any means-tested benefits. Means-tested benefits are benefits given to individuals whose income falls below a certain level such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Supplemental Security Income. In California, those include food stamps, CalWORKs, and non-emergency Medi-Cal.
The May 2019 memo emphasizes the fact that the sponsor is responsible for reimbursing the agency providing the means-tested benefit to the immigrant. If the sponsor does not reimburse the agency and the agency notifies the U.S. government, it can take legal action to obtain that reimbursement. Although many people want to help their friends and family immigrate to the U.S., it is important that they understand the ramifications of the papers they are signing on their behalf. Contact an experienced attorney regarding this hot topic and what it could mean for you.