Visa sponsorship: What you need to know

Sponsoring someone coming to the U.S. on a visa is a serious commitment.

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What's Inside

What's Inside

The United States immigration system is incredibly complex, with more than 200 different types of visas. Most of these visas and permanent residency cards (or green cards) require an individual or employer to act as a sponsor. This sponsorship isn’t a simple endorsement. It comes with specific legal and financial responsibilities. 

Whether you’re considering sponsoring an immigrant or obtaining visa sponsorship yourself, it’s beneficial to understand the intricacies of visa sponsorship in the U.S. This article sheds light on which visas require sponsorship, what sponsoring someone entails and the obligations you’ll need to fulfill as a sponsor.

What is visa sponsorship?

Visa sponsorship refers to endorsing an immigrant’s visa application by taking responsibility for the person’s stay in the country. This endorsement is a formal commitment to the U.S. government. Under this arrangement, the sponsor agrees to ensure that the immigrant has the means to live without becoming a public charge (someone who relies on public funds or welfare).

There are three broad categories of visa sponsorships:

  • Employment-based sponsorship: U.S. employers may sponsor foreign nationals for employment-based visas like the H-1B, EB-1 or O-1 visas. The employer commits to providing a job and often has to prove that hiring a foreign national won’t adversely affect U.S. workers.
  • Family-based sponsorship: U.S. citizens or permanent residents may sponsor family members for family-based visas or green cards. This kind of sponsorship involves demonstrating that the sponsor can financially support the immigrant family member.
  • Academic or training sponsorship: Some visas, like the J-1 exchange visitor visa, require an academic institution or training program to act as a sponsor.

The role of the sponsor is vital regardless of the category of visa sponsorship. In some situations, the sponsor may need to complete an affidavit of support proving they have the financial means to support the immigrant. The applicant then includes the affidavit of support in their application. 

Work visa sponsorships

As the name suggests, a work visa sponsorship revolves around businesses or employers who want to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. for work. This sponsorship is essential for several visa categories, each targeting different worker groups. Here’s a closer look at some prominent examples:

H-1B visas

This visa is for specialty occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. Common applications include computer science roles and other technology-related positions. A successful application requires the sponsoring company to demonstrate that it can’t find a similarly qualified U.S. worker to fill the role. The company must also submit a labor condition application (LCA) with the Department of Labor, which ensures that the foreign worker receives a wage comparable to U.S. workers in similar roles.

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L-1 visas

This visa is for intracompany transferees. An L-1A is for managers or executives, while an L-1B is for workers with specialized knowledge. To obtain the visa, generally, the sponsor must prove that the foreign national has been an employee with the company abroad for at least one out of the past three years. It may also be acceptable if the individual has been doing regular business with the sponsor company.

O-1 visas

These visas focus on individuals with extraordinary ability in arts, sciences, business, education or athletics. The sponsoring employer or agent must show the foreign national’s significant achievements and recognition in their field. Moreover, the sponsor must bring the individual over to continue work in the field of extraordinary ability. The initial period of this visa is up to three years. While employers typically initiate O-1 visas, an applicant may petition the government for an O-1 visa without sponsorship using their agent.

EB series visas

There are five types of employment-based permanent residence cards. Some, but not all, require a sponsor. It depends on not only the preference level but also the qualifying subgroup you’re applying under. An experienced immigration attorney or United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) may be able to help.

The sponsorship process for an employment-based green card may involve proving the unavailability of U.S. workers for the role or making significant investments that create U.S. jobs. The sponsor might also need to:

  • Provide evidence of the company’s financial stability
  • Pay fees associated with the visa application
  • Ensure compliance with U.S. labor laws, including wage requirements, to protect both U.S. and foreign workers

Lastly, the sponsor must remember that ending the employment relationship may affect the foreign national’s visa status. For instance, if an H-1B worker loses their job, they may need to find new employment, change their visa status or leave the U.S. The sponsoring employer may also have specific obligations in case of termination. These obligations may include covering return transportation costs for the foreign worker.

Family visa sponsorships

Family-based visa sponsorships allow U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to unite with close relatives from abroad. The U.S. provides visa sponsorship for parents, siblings, children, cousins, grandparents and grandchildren. Here are a few key principles underlying a family-based green card or visa:

  • Eligibility: All U.S. citizens may sponsor their spouses, children, parents and siblings. LPRs may sponsor their spouses and unmarried children.
  • Priority system: The U.S. utilizes a preference system for family-based visas. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21) generally have priority, while distant relatives fall into a lower preference category with a yearly quota.
  • Affidavit of support: All family visa sponsors must demonstrate they may financially support the relative they’re sponsoring so the immigrant won’t rely on public benefits. Family visa sponsors may use the same affidavit of support as employment visa sponsors.
  • Duration: The sponsorship for a family visa lasts until the family member either becomes a U.S. citizen, has 40 qualifying quarters of work in the U.S., leaves the U.S. or passes away.

How an attorney may help

Understanding the specific sponsorship requirements that apply to your visa is often difficult. It may also be hard to know which forms to file, when to file them and when to reapply for the visa. Consequently, some people find it helpful to consult an immigration attorney. These lawyers may decipher the sponsorship’s requirements, notify you of the sponsor’s legal and financial responsibilities and help oversee the application process.

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Frequently asked questions

Which U.S. visas and green cards require sponsorship?

Many U.S. visas and green cards require sponsorship. The sponsor’s identity varies according to the general visa category. Employment visas requiring sponsorship include the H-1B, L-1, R-1 and TN visas. The EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 green cards also generally require sponsorship, although there are exceptions. Family visas that require sponsorship include the IR, F, K-1 and V visas.

Can I obtain a U.S. work visa without sponsorship?

You may be able to legally work in the U.S. without sponsorship. Most U.S. work visas require sponsorship. However, there are certain scenarios where a foreign national might be able to obtain work authorization without a specific employer acting as a sponsor. These include the O-1 visa, some E-1 and E-2 visas, U visas and asylum seekers and refugees.

What are the legal and financial responsibilities when sponsoring an immigrant?

When you sponsor an immigrant in the U.S., you shoulder legal and financial responsibilities. Legally, sponsors must verify that the immigrant abides by U.S. immigration laws. For example, an employer sponsoring an H-1B visa must guarantee the immigrant works in a certain assigned role. Additionally, sponsors must notify USCIS of any address changes within 10 days. Occasionally, the sponsor must verify that the immigrant departs the U.S. after their visa expires. Financial responsibilities include the duty for sponsors to submit an affidavit of support to show they have the means to support the immigrant. By doing this, the sponsor commits to back the immigrant financially. This move prevents the individual from depending on public benefits. If the immigrant does use public benefits, the government may ask the sponsor to repay those costs. Furthermore, the sponsoring employer in employment-based visas must pay the appropriate wage for the job and location. Finally, the sponsor must handle many of the USCIS fees. Breaching these financial commitments may lead to legal consequences, such as deportation of the immigrant and fines.

Can I rescind my sponsorship?

Yes, sponsors of all kinds of visas may rescind their visa sponsorship. To do so, the sponsor should notify USCIS in writing before the agency grants the visa. The situation becomes more complicated if the sponsor wishes to rescind their sponsorship after USCIS grants the visa. This is because simply withdrawing support may affect the sponsored individual’s status and the sponsor’s potential financial obligations. The exact consequences depend on the type of visa.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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