Petitioner’s Obligations When Sponsoring a Beneficiary for a Green Card

When sponsoring an immediate relative – such as a spouse, parent, child or sibling – for U.S. permanent residency, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor must prove that he/she has the financial ability to support the relative if the green card is approved. This is usually done by having the petitioner submit federal tax returns, W-2 forms, or 1099 forms for the previous three years, as well as recent pay stubs.

If the petitioner does not meet the income requirement necessary to sponsor the relative, a joint sponsor who does meet the income requirement can be used in his/her place. The joint sponsor does not have to be related to the petitioner or the beneficiary, although the joint sponsor must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

What obligations do a sponsor or joint sponsor have towards the beneficiary?

In sponsoring a beneficiary for a green card, the petitioner or joint sponsor is essentially signing a contract agreeing to provide the beneficiary with any support necessary to maintain him/her an income level that is at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. This means that the sponsor agrees to make available his/her income and assets to the beneficiary in determining whether he/she is eligible for certain federal, state or local “means-tested public benefits.”

These may include: food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance of Needy Families, or State Child Health Insurance Program. Means-tested public benefits do not include: emergency Medicaid, school lunches, immunizations for communicable diseases, student assistances, foster care or adoption assistance, job training programs, Head Start, or short-term, non-cash emergency relief. By agreeing to sponsor a beneficiary, the petitioner agrees to reimburse any federal, state or local agency for any public benefits that the beneficiary receives after becoming a permanent resident.

How long does the obligation last?

This obligation will continue until the beneficiary: 1) becomes a U.S. citizen; 2) has worked or is credited with forty quarters of coverage under the Social Security Act (e.g. – working full-time for ten years); 3) no longer has lawful permanent status (e.g. – reliquinsh or abandon green card); 4) becomes subject to removal and obtains a new basis for adjusting status; 5) dies; or 6) the petitioner/joint sponsor dies. It is important to note that divorce does not terminate a sponsor or joint sponsor’s obligations.


Before agreeing to sponsor a foreign relative for a green card, it is important for the petitioner to understand exactly what his/her obligations are. While almost all of us will do anything for a loved one, the obligation is a longstanding one – and one that may hit you financially down the road if the beneficiary does become a public charge.