A big problem for US citizens who’ve been abroad for a longer period who want to bring their foreign spouse to the States is the sponsorship requirements. You need proof of a certain level of income on your taxes (for a family of 2 it’s around 19,000) and, unless you’ve been making serious bank, all foreign income is excluded on US taxes while living permanently abroad, so your official income is actually zero. This was my situation.
This was also my sister’s situation, who had been in Japan for a few years before she came back and married a foreigner (it’s kind of a thing in our family…) so my mother was the joint sponsor. While she probably could have also done it for my husband, the amount of paperwork involved was a little more complicated than I was willing to undertake from abroad. My sister’s husband was already in the States, so he was changing his visa status, and they ended up hiring a lawyer to handle most of it.
For my husband, two friends were in financial positions to be joint sponsors, and willing to do it, which gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies thinking about how much these people love us and want us to be living closer. There are legal considerations to being a sponsor, since you’re guaranteeing the immigrant will not be a burden on the welfare system. Should he apply for and receive certain things like Medicaid or food stamps, then the sponsor(s) would have to repay the government. You have to update your address when you move to be sure they can find you to get their money back! These obligations end after the immigrant works 10 years (well, 40 quarters), becomes a citizen, or leaves the country. But a divorce does not end the obligations! Nor does it mean the immigrant loses his green card, though depending on how long you were married, they’ll probably want proof it was a real marriage…
My friends’ paperwork was much simpler than my mother’s: job contract stating salary, recent paystubs, tax returns and W2s (or tax transcripts). Again, Visajourney was an amazing resource to figure out exactly what is best to send. Both friends were married, but thankfully made enough to not need to include their spouse’s income to meet the requirements (this would have added even more to the already endless paperwork!). I ended up using the friend that made slightly more, because I wasn’t sure if bébé was counted in the joint sponsor’s household size. He’s definitely in my household, so if I was going to be the only sponsor, I needed to have the minimum income for a household of 3, which, for reasons discussed above, I do not. Since he doesn’t need sponsorship, normally just my husband is added to the joint sponsor’s household, also making it 3 (sponsor, spouse, and my husband). But just in case they counted bébé and considered it a household of 4, I went with the slightly higher salary to be sure to fulfil the requirements. All these years in France have made me wary of unexpected, unwritten extra requirements that pop up, so I wanted to be sure the sponsor’s file has more than they asked for, just in case.
So hurray, I have wonderful friends, who have filed taxes correctly and have faith in us to not become too poor in the coming years. That’s all the paperwork done right?
Of course not! As a citizen living abroad, I needed proof that I intended to reestablish my domicile in the States. Because it would be a pretty sweet deal to just get the husband a green card so we could visit whenever we wanted but still live abroad and exclude my income (and his!) from my taxes…
What you can use as proof can vary a lot, depending on your situation. If you already have a job offer, that’s a pretty good thing to have. If you have a child, you can send in registration for school. If you already have property or housing set up, that works too. I included email exchanges with a daycare and shipping quotes. At first I thought it was too soon to do things like that six months before we were planning on leaving, but it’s stuff I had to do anyway, so it was good to get it done earlier. And now bébé has a daycare spot already set up for when we arrive!
My dad also wrote a letter saying we’ll be living with him, along with proof of address (very familiar to expats in France: copy of ID and utility bill!). I had kept my savings account open the past 8 years to pay my student loans, though I had closed my checking account. I opened a new one this summer, and send proof of both accounts. I also still had a (fee-free) credit card open (useful for emergency plane tickets), and my driver’s licence.
From reading the forums on Visajourney, this can obviously be really hard for some people who closed everything when they moved abroad. If I hadn’t had my student loans, I probably would have done that. They’re also much stricter about proof for people moving from Canada, and it seems like a lot of people there end up moving back before their spouse to get an apartment and a job. If bébé had been older and in school, we might have done that. One thing that was made very clear was that I need to arrive with or before my husband, not after. So when we started applying for jobs a few months ago, we waited on getting tickets, just in case I got an offer to start earlier I could take it. And while there was a promising lead for the beginning of January, in the end, we decided to leave together. (Also neither of us wanted to deal with bébé’s first international flight alone!)
So there’s a brief and by no way all-inclusive overview of the financial and practical aspects of getting your foreign spouse to the States if you’ve been living abroad for any amount of time. It’s not too terribly complicated, just make sure you have all the right documents! And having friends and family in the States is pretty essential. Though you can also fulfil the financial requirement by having proof of 5x the minimum income requirement in assets. So if you got your hands on one of those winning Powerball tickets yesterday and felt like getting a green card for your foreign spouse, you definitely could! (Though with that much money, I’d just buy an island and make up my own visa rules!)