If you are petitioning a family member to receive a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), you will without a doubt need to fill out a Form I-864 "Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act." In addition, however, if your I-864 does not show sufficient income and assets to support the immigrant at a level that meets or exceeds 125% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines, you may want to ask a member of your household to sign a Form I-864a, "Contract between Sponsor and Household Member."
The form I-864a is optional -- not every petitioner needs to submit it. Even if your income and assets are not sufficient, you might decide (most likely for personal reasons) to look for an alternative, such as lining up a joint sponsor (someone who will sign an additional I-864) rather than having the household member sign an I-864a.
Every year, the U.S. government publishes what are known as the Poverty Guidelines, listing minimum annual income levels to support families of various sizes. In order to sponsor an immigrant, you are expected to be able to show income or assets of 125% of this amount. This includes yourself, any dependents living in your household, and the immigrants you are sponsoring. By signing the Affidavit of Support, you promise the U.S. government that you will repay any government agency from which the immigrants later receive need-based public assistance. In filling out the form, you will determine whether your income and assets are high enough to take on this obligation alone. For more information on this obligation, see Financial Support You'll Need to Apply For a Family-Based Green Card.
Some people find that their income and assets do not quite reach the required level. If they have someone in their household who is actually bringing in money, not being able to count that person's income may seem unfair. Yet it wouldn't be fair to the household member to have his or her money counted in the household income, and ultimately to offer it up as backup in case the main petitioner/sponsor is asked to repay a government agency, without actually agreeing to such an arrangement. That is where Form I-864a comes in.
A limited group of people are qualified to sign Form I-864a on an immigrant's behalf. These include:
A separate Form I-864a must be completed by each household member whose income and assets are referenced in meeting the U.S. Poverty Guidelines requirements.
The form itself is fairly straightforward. The household member simply fills out some personal information and attaches a copy of his or her latest federal tax return. (Up to three years of tax returns can be submitted if it will help make your case.)
Note that Part 2 of the form asks for the name of the main sponsor. That's because the agreement is being made between the main sponsor and the household member -- and before signing, the household member needs to be assured that the main sponsor really will fill out an Affidavit of Support, so as to share the financial responsibility of supporting the incoming immigrants.
If it is the incoming immigrant adding income and assets to the mix, he or she needs to sign this form only if there are dependents (most likely children) immigrating at the same time.
If you're trying to help family members immigrate to the U.S., please see our section on Family-Based Immigration.