U.S. immigration law is an invitation-based system. For someone wishing to move permanently to the country there is no general “line” to get in. Rather, the path to permanent residency (a “green card”) usually begins with a U.S. business or individual petitioning for the foreign national – think of this as a type of invitation from the U.S. entity or individual to the foreign national.
Any foreign national wishing to enter the U.S. is screened through a long list of grounds of inadmissibility. These range from crime-related grounds to health-related grounds. A long-standing ground of inadmissibility bars an individual likely to become a “public charge” – that is, likely to be a drain on public resources. This determination is made either by a consular officer at the time of a visa interview, or at the time the individual applies within the U.S. to become a permanent resident. A variety of factors are considered in the public charge determination. Since 1996, however, immigration petitioners have been required to promise financial support to certain classes of foreign nationals.
The Form I-864, Affidavit of Support is an immigration form submitted by the U.S. immigration petitioner, guaranteeing to provide financial support to a foreign national beneficiary. The form is required to ensure the immigrant does not become a “public charge.” The I-864 is required in all cases where a U.S. citizen or permanent resident has filed an immigration petition for a foreign family member including for a spouse.
In addition to the primary sponsor (i.e., the immigration petitioner) an additional individual may be asked to file a Form I-864. Where the sponsor is unable to demonstrate adequate financial wherewithal, an additional “joint-sponsor” may be used to meet the required level. To qualify as a joint sponsor, the individual needs to be an adult U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident currently living in the United States. Joint sponsors typically are – but are not required to be – family or close friends of the primary sponsor. A joint sponsor signs a separate Form I-864, indicating herself as a joint rather than primary sponsor.