How long does a letter of support commitment last?

In this week's Consulta Migratoria® column I answer a reader's question. Each case is different and the answers vary depending on each person's immigration history.

Here I provide general answers to your questions. Please consult with an immigration attorney to receive personalized legal advice before starting any procedure.

This is the column:

I am a U.S. citizen. In 2009 I helped a friend's relative immigrate by signing a letter of support. The person was able to obtain U.S. permanent residency and lives in Florida. How long does this document last and what are my legal responsibilities? -Samuel M.

Samuel, U.S. immigration law states that most people who immigrate to this country based on a family petition, and some employment cases, must have a "financial sponsor" - a person who supports and is financially responsible for that person.

This commitment is set forth in an Affidavit of Support, called an Affidavit of Support. Form I-864 is used to comply with this requirement. This document is a legal contract between the person sponsoring an immigrant and the U.S. Government. The federal government will not approve the case if a Letter of Support is not presented when required.

With this document, an immigrant's sponsor swears that he or she will provide adequate financial support for the immigrant's livelihood and agrees to prevent the immigrant from becoming a public charge after entering the United States. The government considers a person to be a public charge if he or she applies for and relies on certain public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The person who undertakes to financially sponsor a family member or any other immigrant has a great responsibility - one that can last for years.

The legal aspects of a Letter of Support remain in effect until the sponsored immigrant:

- You become a U.S. citizen.

- Has earned or is credited with 40 quarters of work in the U.S. under the Social Security Act (generally 10 years), not counting time during which the person received public benefits that he or she was not required to receive.

- Re-acquire permanent residency while in deportation proceedings.

- You cease to be a permanent resident and leave the U.S. permanently.

- Passes away.

During this time, the U.S. Government can take legal action against the person who sponsored and signed a Letter of Support on behalf of an immigrant, if the immigrant uses public benefits, which he or she was expressly warned could not receive upon entering the country.

The sponsor is also legally obligated to inform the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of any change of address until their financial responsibility ends.

If you change your address, you must file a Form I-865, Sponsor's Notice of Change of Address, within thirty days of your move. Failure to do so may subject the sponsor to a penalty of $250 to $5,000.

For more information and immigration tips, read my blog

Send your questions to Include detailed information about your situation to better answer your questions.

Nelson A. Castillo, Esq. is an immigration attorney and author of La Tarjeta Verde: Cómo Obtener la Residencia Permanente en los Estados Unidos (Green Card: How to Obtain Permanent Residence in the United States). He is a past President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and current President of the Los Angeles Westlake South Neighborhood Council. To contact Mr. Castillo's office, please call (213) 537-VISA (8472).