When you sponsor a family member’s U.S. immigration, you are legally responsible for financially supporting the immigrant(s) until they become U.S. citizens or they have worked for 40 quarters. If you are a joint sponsor (used when the sponsor cannot meet minimum income requirements or has died before all family members have completed the immigration process), you share this responsibility with the other joint sponsors.
The sponsor is responsible for repaying the cost of public benefits if the immigrant subsequently goes on welfare. The agency can sue you in court for these costs if you do not pay. If the agency is still unable to collect repayment for cash benefits for income maintenance or the cost of long term institutional care, the agency can initiate deportation proceedings. Repayment of public benefits is not a requirement for immigrants to adjust status or be admitted into the United States.
Sponsors are used to ensure that immigrants do not become dependent on the government to live or do not become "public charges". This is why sponsors must meet minimum income requirements. If the immigrant you sponsor receives any "means-tested public benefits", they can be found to have become a "public charge". If an immigrant is found to be a public charge, their application for permanent residency, a green card, or an entry visa may be denied. In very rare cases, deportation may also result.
Federal "means-tested benefits" include:
- Food Stamps
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- State Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
States and local jurisdictions may also designate programs as means-tested public benefits.
The following programs are not considered "means-tested benefits":
- Emergency Medicaid
- Short-term, non-cash emergency relief
- Services provided under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts
- Immunizations and testing and treatment for communicable diseases
- Student assistance under the Higher Education Act and the Public Health Service Act
- Certain forms of foster-care or adoption assistance under the Social Security Act
- Head Start programs
- Means-tested programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
- Job Training Partnership Act programs
When you decide to sponsor an immigrant, you create a legally enforceable contract with the Government until your relative becomes a citizen or acquires 40 quarters of work. If you are concerned about what is required of you as a sponsor, an immigration attorney will be able to determine what options are best for you and for your relative(s) who plan to immigrate.