For many low-income people, navigating the U.S. immigration system can be overwhelmingly expensive. In addition to lawyer fees, you also have to pay application processing fees to U.S. Citizenship and immigration Service (USCIS). This money adds up rather quickly. Recently, the Trump Administration proposed fee increases for immigration applications. Thankfully, that proposal is no longer active and USCIS fees will remain the same for the foreseeable future. Still, it is expensive to apply for immigration. This article suggests six tips to cut costs and raise money for your immigration application.
Tip 1 - Consider filing on your own online
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. And we're here to help!
ImmigrationHelp.org is a nonprofit that helps immigrants like you prepare and file their paperwork for free. With our simple online application, you can find out if you're eligible, prepare your forms quickly and easily, and get an expert review when your forms are ready. Then, we'll give you detailed filing instructions so that you know exactly what to do and when to do it. it's 100% free, and it's a great way to avoid the high costs of an attorney. We've already helped more than 1,500 people on their immigration journey, and we would love to help you!
Tip 2 - Work with a legal aid organization
Sometimes you’ll absolutely need to work with a lawyer on your application and we can’t help you. Lawyers are expensive because the immigration system is complex. Thankfully, many lawyers help immigrants for free or for 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 a form that qualifies, 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:
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 Service's (USCIS) website. You’ll have to request the fee waiver using Form I-912.
You can request a fee waiver for these forms:
- Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
- Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization ("EAD") unless you are a DACA recipient
- 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
You can find a full list of forms that you can submit a fee waiver request with on USCIS's website.
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 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. You can use this template as a starting point. It's designed for DACA applicants, but you can tweak the language for your case. 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!
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:
- There are 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 can get a ZERO-interest loan from the nonprofit MAF 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 a Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions with your application forms.
Immigration processes can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!