For those sponsoring an immigrant to become a citizen, you will likely need to sign a Form I-864, otherwise known as an Affidavit of Support.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this document is required "for most family-based immigrants and some employment-based immigrants" to show the federal government that they will have a means of support when they arrive. If you are petitioning for a relative or spouse to come to the United States, you will probably be required to sign this affidavit.
But there are three important things sponsors should know about these affidavits of support:
1. The I-864 Affidavit of Support Is Legally Binding.
The I-864 affidavit of support is a legally binding contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government. Don't take our word for it, "Part 8" of the official form spells out the legal effect of signing the form as "creat[ing] a contract between you and the U.S. Government." This contract obligates you to provide your sponsored immigrant with enough support to reach 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for up to 10 years.
If you do not provide this support, the contract gives the immigrant the power to sue you for any unpaid support. Not only that, if the immigrant is receiving any means-tested benefits (SSI, food stamps, etc.), those organizations may also sue you for unpaid support.
2. Obligations Are Separate From Alimony.
If you decide to sponsor your spouse for citizenship but then divorce him or her, you may owe that spouse alimony (spousal support). However, even if a judge determines that no alimony is required, you may still owe support under the affidavit of support. The I-864 obligation is not terminated based on divorce or a termination of alimony, and you may be required to pay support for up to 10 years under the affidavit.
3. Joint Sponsors Are Obligated Too.
You may have needed a joint sponsor or two to bring your income up to an adequate level to sponsor an immigrant relative or spouse, but any sponsor is potentially on the hook for the entire support amount. If you need your sibling or parent to sign on as a joint sponsor, make sure to remind them of their support obligations to your sponsored immigrant.
Hopefully, your sponsored immigrant will become a citizen and will not sue you for support, but you should be aware that this is a real legal possibility.