Can I Sponsor an Immigrant that is a Non-Family Member?

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on May 26, 2023
At a Glance: The public charge rule prevents immigration to the U.S. for those likely to rely on government assistance. Sponsoring someone with Form I-864 makes you financially responsible, and if they receive means-tested benefits, you may face fines and lawsuits. Sponsorship lasts until the person becomes a U.S. citizen or pays into Social Security for 40 quarters. Avoiding means-tested programs like Medicaid, SSI, and food stamps is crucial. Emergency Medicaid, Head Start, and certain educational programs are permissible. Sponsors must meet income requirements, complete Form I-864, and provide supporting documents. Filing includes notarization and verification of income and employment. Additional documents may be required based on circumstances.

Can a U.S. citizen sponsor a non-family member for immigration? Unfortunately, no, you can’t petition for a foreign national’s visa or green card if they aren’t a family member. But there is still a way you can help. You can sponsor your friend’s immigration petition financially. Being a financial sponsor to an immigrant can make a big difference to their application and can be the difference between being approved or rejected. 

You can sponsor your friend financially by providing a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. But before you commit to sponsoring your friend financially, you must understand what it means. 

When you sponsor your friend, you guarantee they will have enough finances (from their employment and from your financial assistance), so they won’t become a public charge.

What is the “Public Charge Rule”? 

The public charge rule prevents someone from immigrating to the U.S. if they are likely to depend on the government for subsistence. Basically, if they will be needing the government’s financial assistance.

If you provide your friend with a Form I-864, and your friend ends up receiving any benefits from a means-tested government assistance program (i.e., relying on the government for assistance), you will be liable for fines and possibly even a civil lawsuit which will require you to repay the government.

Your commitment to sponsor your friend financially will last until they become a U.S. citizen through naturalization or until they have paid into Social Security for at least 40 quarters (being about 10 years), whichever happens first. 

As long as you ensure your friend does not receive any benefits from any means-tested government assistance programs, you’ll be safe. But which types of assistance should your friend steer away from exactly?

Which Public Benefits are Immigrants Prohibited from Accessing?

The following means-tested public benefits programs are prohibited for immigrants:

  • Medicaid
  • Supplement Security Income (SSI)
  • State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
  • Food stamps
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

If your friend participates in any one of these programs, it will result in direct financial liability for you.

Which Public Benefits Can Immigrants Utilize?

There are some government assistance programs your friend will be able to utilize without it resulting in liability for you:

  • Emergency Medicaid
  • Head Start Programs
  • Means-tested programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Job Training Partnership Act programs
  • Short-term, non-cash emergency relief
  •  Immunizations, testing, and treatment for infectious diseases
  • Certain forms of foster-care or adoption assistance under the Social Security Act
  • Student assistance under the Higher Education Act and the Public Health Service Act
  •  Services under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts.

How to Sponsor an Immigrant Friend

Becoming a friend’s financial sponsor for immigration is relatively straightforward. You must:

  • Meet the income requirements for sponsoring a friend
  • Complete Form Form I-864

Income Requirements for Sponsoring a Friend

Before you can financially sponsor your friend, you will need to show you meet the requirements of being an eligible sponsor. 

Firstly, your household income must be more than 125% of the U.S. poverty level for your household size. The following are guidelines provided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (together with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Size of HouseholdMinimum Income Required
Household of two$20,575
Household of three$25,975
Household of four$31,375
Household of five$36,775
Household of six$42,175
Household of seven$47,575
Household of eight$52,975
For each additional household member, add $5,400

Your “household” will include yourself, your dependents (spouse and child), any relatives that may be living with you, and the friends you are planning to sponsor. For example, if you and your spouse have one child and you are sponsoring one friend, you would be a household of four for the above purposes. 

If you are on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, however, you will have a little extra leeway. The USCIS will then only require your income to be on the U.S. poverty line (so 100% of the U.S. poverty line). There will not be a 25% premium applicable.

If you don’t meet the above income requirements, you will, unfortunately, not be able to financially sponsor your friend for immigration. 

How to File Form I-864

Filing Form I-864 is easy. After you’ve completed all the sections, you must sign the form in the presence of a notary public, so the affidavit is notarized. Get a printed copy of your most recent Form W-2 and federal income tax return and include it with your Form I-864. This is to verify your annual income and provide proof of your employment. 

If you want to make your case watertight, you can also include 6 months’ pay stubs, 3 years’ tax returns, and a letter from your employer. 

Also, take note of the possible additional supporting documents you will have to include if any of the following scenarios apply.

ScenarioAdditional Documents Required
You are self-employedInclude a copy of Schedule C, D, E, or F, from your most recent federal income tax return
You are on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or U.S. Coast Guard and relying on the adjusted requirement for 100% of the U.S. poverty lineInclude proof of your active military status
You are using the income of other household membersComplete a separate Form I-864A for each person
You are using the income of household members who are not listed as dependents on your federal income tax returnInclude proof of that person’s residency in your household and prove their relationship to you.
The immigrant is a joint-sponsor for their own petitionInclude proof that their current employment will continue from the same source.
You rely on the fair market value of personal or household assets to qualifyInclude documentation of ownership, location, date of acquisition, and value. If there is a lien or other liability against the asset, include evidence of the lien or liability.
You are a U.S. citizenInclude proof of your citizenship status (e.g. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or passport).
You are a lawful permanent resident Include a copy of both sides of your Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card.

When you’ve got all the documents together, give them to the friend you will be sponsoring. If they are in the U.S. and applying for an adjustment of status to get a green card, they can provide your documents with their application. If they are outside of the U.S. when applying, they can provide your documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they are doing their visa interview. 

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.