For many low-income people, navigating the U.S. immigration system is overwhelmingly expensive. In addition to lawyer fees, you must also pay application processing fees to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This money adds up rather quickly. This article suggests six tips to cut costs and raise money for your immigration application.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated January 25, 2023
Tip 1: Consider Filing Online on Your Own
Immigration is complicated, but you don’t always need a lawyer to file your application. If you’re eligible for an immigration benefit and don’t have a criminal record or another complication in your background, you can file your application on your own. It can be hard to figure out which forms to use, what information goes where, and what to do once you've got everything ready to file. But with a little help, you can do it.
Tip 2: Work With a Legal Aid Organization
Sometimes we won’t be able to help you, and you’ll need to work with a lawyer on your application. Lawyers are expensive because the immigration system is complex. Thankfully, many lawyers help immigrants for free or at a reduced rate.
You can find free legal help at Usa.gov. These lawyers and clinics care a lot about legal immigration, but they often have more demand than time. Don't get discouraged if it takes a while to find one who can help you. You'll still have to pay your filing fees, but you won't have to pay an extra $2,000-$5,000 for a lawyer.
Tip 3: Apply for a Fee Waiver
If your household income is under 125% of the federal poverty level and you are filing an eligible form, you can apply for a fee waiver. Getting a fee waiver means you will not have to pay anything to submit your immigration forms. This will make it easier for you to afford the increased fees.
How Do I Calculate My Household Income?
To determine your household size for a fee waiver, count the following people:
The head of your household (if it's someone other than you)
Your spouse who lives with you, if you're married (don't include your spouse if they do not live with you or if you're separated)
Any family members who live with you and depend on your household income, including:
Your unmarried children or legal wards under age 21
Your unmarried children or legal wards between ages 21 and 24 who are full-time students (who live with you when not at school)
Your unmarried children or legal wards who are physically or developmentally disabled or mentally impaired
Any other dependents listed on your federal income tax return or that of your spouse or head of household
Which Forms Can I Request a Fee Waiver For?
You can only request a fee waiver for certain immigration forms. For a full list, check out the forms listed under Special Instructions on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. You’ll have to request the fee waiver using Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. You can request a fee waiver for these forms:
Form N-400: Application for Naturalization
Form N-600: Application for Certification of Citizenship
Form I-90: Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card
Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
How Do I Qualify to Submit a Fee Waiver?
To qualify for a fee waiver, you must demonstrate to the United States government that you can't afford the filing fee for one of the following reasons:
Your annual household income is at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.
You have a financial hardship (like significant medical expenses or unemployment).
To apply for the fee waiver, submit Form I-912 with your eligible immigration forms. You do not need to pay the fees for those forms if you are requesting a fee waiver. USCIS will send you a notice asking you to pay the fees if they don't approve your application.
Tip 4: Ask Your Community
Friends and family get to see precisely how the immigration process impacts your life, so they are often the best people to ask for help paying your fees. One of the best ways to ask for help is to send letters and emails to select friends or family members.
It may help to think outside the box with your friends and family. For example, maybe instead of gifts for your birthday, you could ask for money to help you pay for your application fees. After all, what better gift could someone give you than the chance to live, work, and love in the United States? Many immigrants can pay their filing fees with the support they receive from their loved ones. You'll never know until you ask!
Getting Help From an Organization
There are also many organizations that are willing to help immigrants with their filing fees. Here are a few great places to seek help with your fees:
Government-funded organizations that exist to help immigrants deal with the cost and complexity of the filing process. Some of them help with fees. Check out this list from USCIS and reach out to a few in your area.
Ask your employer to help pay your fees. Helping you get status helps them keep you as an employee. Hiring a new employee to replace you will probably cost them much more than the filing fees, so many employers are happy to help.
If you live in the San Francisco area, you may be able to get a zero-interest loan from the Mission Asset Fund to help pay your fees.
If you are a member of a church or other faith group, reach out to them. They may be willing to help you!
Tip 5: Crowdfund Your Filing Fees
Your immigration story is worth telling, and people want to hear it. If you're willing to share it online, you can probably get donations to help cover your filing fees from people you don't even know. The quickest and easiest way to do this is by setting up a crowdfunding campaign on a service like GoFundMe. It might sound crazy, but crowdfunding your immigration fees works.
Sharing your journey with random strangers may feel weird, but it can be a great way to raise money to pay your filing fees. This guide to crowdfunding legal fees contains everything you will need to set up a successful fundraising campaign. Give it a try — the kindness of strangers is a powerful force!
Tip 6: Pay Your Filing Fees With a Credit Card
If you don't have the money to pay your fees right now but will soon, you can use your credit card to pay most immigration fees. Here is a full list of the forms that have filing fees you can pay with a credit card. All you will need to do is include Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, with your application forms.