U.S. immigration application filing fees can be quite expensive, but if you can't afford them you have options. You may qualify for a fee waiver if your household income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) for your state and you are filing a qualifying form. If your household income is between 150% and 200% of the FPL for your state and you are filing a qualifying form, you may be eligible for a fee reduction. This article explains the difference between a fee reduction and a fee waiver, who qualifies, and how to apply for each.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated October 9, 2022
What Is a Fee Reduction?
A fee reduction is exactly what it sounds like — it reduces the filing fees for your U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) application. To qualify for a USCIS fee reduction, you must be able to prove that your total annual household income is more than 150% but less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
USCIS applies fee reductions on a form-by-form basis, and not every form is eligible for a fee reduction. Under the new Public Charge Rule, you cannot apply for a fee reduction for green card applications. You can, however, request a fee reduction when you apply for citizenship by naturalization with Form N-400: Application for Naturalization. USCIS provides a full list of forms eligible for a fee reduction.
If USCIS approves your fee reduction request, you will only have to pay 50% of the total filing fee. USCIS will not reduce the $85 biometrics fee. If approved, you will pay a reduced fee of $320 for Form N-400 and the full biometric fee of $85, unless you are exempt from paying the biometric fee (i.e., you're an applicant who is 75 years and older).
To learn more about the naturalization process, check out our comprehensive citizenship filing guide.
Who Qualifies for a USCIS Fee Reduction?
To qualify for a USCIS fee reduction, you must be submitting an application form that is eligible for a fee reduction.
When you apply, you must also be able to prove that you are experiencing enough financial hardship to need a fee reduction. That means that you need to show that you have an annual total household income between 150% and 200% of the federal poverty level for your household size.
Here's a list of the people who count toward your household size:
The head of household (if it's not you)
Your spouse, if you have one
Unmarried children or legal wards who are under 21 and live with you
Unmarried children or legal wards who are between the ages of 21 and 24 and are full-time students who live with you when school is not in session
Your parents if they live with you
Anyone else who is a dependent listed on your federal tax return
Here is what 150% and 200% of the federal poverty level look like by household size for those living in the 48 contiguous states and U.S. territories. If you live in Hawaii or Alaska, you can find the same information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
|Household Size||150% of Poverty Guidelines||200% of Poverty Guidelines|
|6 or more||Add $6,720 for each additional person||Add $8,960 for each additional person|
|Household size||150% of FPL for ALASKA||150% FPL for HAWAII||200% of FPL for ALASKA||200% of FPL for HAWAII|
|6+||Add $8,400 for each additional person||Add $7,725 for each additional person||Add $11,200 for each additional person||Add $10,300 for each additional person|
How Do I Apply for a USCIS Fee Reduction?
Applying for a fee reduction is fairly simple. All you need to do is prepare and file Form I-942 along with any required supporting documents when you submit your application paperwork to USCIS. In this section, we will break down that process in detail.
Step 1: Complete and Sign Form I-942
To request a fee reduction from USCIS, you must first complete Form I-942: Request for Reduced Fee. You can access the most recent version of the form on the USCIS website. There is no fillable online version of the form, so you must download and print it to complete it.
Form I-942 is straightforward and should not take much time to complete. When you are done, be sure to sign the form. USCIS will not accept the form if it is not signed.
If you want to apply for a fee reduction for more than one person in your family, each person requesting one must sign their respective forms. For applicants under age 14, their parent or legal guardian may sign the request on their behalf. For applicants with a physical or mental disability, a legal guardian may also sign on their behalf.
Step 2: Gather Supporting Documents To Prove Your Income Level
When you submit Form I-942, you will need to include supporting documentation that shows your financial need. Follow the instructions for completing Form I-942 and gather the suggested supporting documents for each part of the application form.
It is a good idea to provide this documentation again with Form I-942 even if you provided it with the rest of your application. The forms sometimes get separated from each other during processing and you want to be sure that USCIS has all of your evidence when they review your request.
Step 3: Pay the Reduced Fee Amount
After completing and signing the fee reduction request, you must prepare your payment for the reduced application fee amount. In most cases, that means 50% of the normal filing fee. For Form N-400, the reduced filing fee is $320 + the full $85 biometric services fee unless you are an applicant who doesn't have to submit biometrics (e.g., you're 75 years or older).
You can pay your reduced fee with a check or money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." Do not address it to the "DHS," "U.S. DHS," or anything other than "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." If you do, USCIS will not accept your payment and will reject or delay your application.
You can also pay the reduced filing fee with a credit card by filling out Form G-1450: Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, and submitting it with your application.
Step 4: Submit Your Reduced Fee Request and Application Forms to USCIS
When you have completed Form I-942 and set up payment for the reduced filing fees, it is time to mail your full application packet to USCIS! Gather your forms, fee payment, and supporting documents together with a cover letter that explains what USCIS will find in your packet. It's a good idea to put your fee reduction request right after the cover letter and before your forms.
Make sure that you make copies of your forms for your records, send in copies of all supporting documents unless the form instructions request originals, and use a mail service that you can track when you send everything in.
The address where you will mail your application packet and fee reduction request varies by application type and postal service that you use, so make sure that you refer to the specific instructions for your application type on USCIS’s website. You can also check out the instructions in our filing guides for more consolidated info.
Step 5: Wait for USCIS To Respond to Your Fee Reduction Request
If USCIS approves your request, you will not need to do anything additional as you have already paid the required reduced fees. This does not mean that your application has been approved - just that your fee waiver request has been approved. USCIS will process your application for immigration status separately.
If USCIS does not approve your fee reduction request, they will send you a notification asking you to pay the remaining fee. If that happens, check out our article on creative ways to pay your application fees for help dealing with the higher fee amounts. It’s important that you pay the remaining fees ASAP so that USCIS doesn’t reject your application.
Regardless of what happens with your fee reduction request, you shouldn't have to worry about the cost of an attorney when you prepare your paperwork. We can help you prepare Form I-942 and your application for immigration status for free with our simple web app.
What Are Fee Waivers?
A fee waiver is a provision that USCIS makes for low-income applicants who cannot afford to pay filing fees. If you get a fee waiver from USCIS, it means that you do not have to pay the filing fee for your application at all. You may still have to pay other application fees, but you will not have to pay any of the filing fees for the forms that you submit.
Who Qualifies for a USCIS Fee Waiver?
Not everyone qualifies for a fee waiver. To qualify, your household income must be at or below 150% of the federal poverty level, and you must be filing an application type that is eligible for a fee waiver. Most DACA applications, for instance, are not eligible for fee waivers.
If the form that you are submitting is eligible for a fee waiver, and if you can prove that your household income is low enough to qualify, then you may be able to get a fee waiver when you apply for immigration status.
Let’s dive into the specific fee waiver eligibility requirements in more detail.
Filing an Eligible Form
To qualify for a USCIS fee waiver, you must be submitting an application form that is eligible for a fee waiver. Here is a list of some of the more common forms that qualify:
Form I-90: Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card
Form N-400: Application for Naturalization
Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization
Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (depending on your applicant type)
Form I-131: Application for Travel Document
You can view the full list of eligible forms with their eligibility requirements on USCIS’s website. In some cases, you can apply for a fee waiver even if the form you are submitting would not normally qualify for one. That is the case for certain special cases like U Visas, VAWA green cards, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applications.
Meeting the Income Requirements
In addition to filing an eligible form, you must also satisfy one of these conditions that prove that you do not have the ability to pay the fees:
Show that you or someone in your household receives a means-tested public benefit like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income(SSI), or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Things like child support, Social Security benefits, and unemployment benefits do not count.
Prove that you are experiencing financial hardship because of medical bills or other emergency costs
Prove that your total annual household income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Here is a snapshot of what 150% of the federal poverty level looks like by household size for those living in the 48 contiguous states:
|Household Size||150% of Poverty Guidelines|
|6 or more||Add $6,720 for each additional person|
|Household Size||150% of FPL for ALASKA||150% of FPL for HAWAII|
|6+||Add $8,400 for each additional person||Add $7,725 for each additional person|
For some applicants, like those applying for U Visas, VAWA green cards, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), these requirements are a bit looser. If you are a special immigrant juvenile, you do not have to provide proof of income with your fee waiver application. You can find more information about the eligibility requirements for fee waivers in the Form I-912 instructions.
If you meet the eligibility requirements for a fee waiver and are ready to apply for immigration status, check out our detailed filing guides.
How Do I Apply for a USCIS Fee Waiver?
Unlike a fee reduction, a USCIS fee waiver waives both the filing fee and the biometric fee. If USCIS approves your fee waiver application, you will pay a total of $0 for your application. Here are the steps to follow to apply for a fee waiver.
Step 1: Complete Form I-912
To apply for a fee waiver, you must submit Form I-912: Request for Fee Waiver to USCIS, with the rest of your application packet, by mail. You cannot complete the request for a fee waiver online. USCIS will only accept the paper version of the form. You can find the most recent version of the form on USCIS's website. If you're applying as a family, each member applying must complete a Form I-912.
Form I-912 is relatively easy to fill out, and shouldn’t take long. Once you finish, don't forget to sign where requested! USCIS will reject your fee waiver request if you do not sign your Form I-912. Parents and legal guardians can sign the form on behalf of children applying who are 14 years old and younger. Legal guardians can also sign for applicants who have a physical or mental disability that keeps them from signing for themselves.
Step 2: Gather Supporting Documents To Prove Your Income Level
Once you have completed Form I-912, it is time to gather the supporting documents listed in the Form I-912 instructions. These documents show your financial need to USCIS and are essential to getting a fee waiver.
It is a good idea to include a copy of the supporting documents with Form I-912 even if you already included them with the rest of your application. The forms may get separated and it is a good idea for each of them to have the required documents just in case.
Step 3: Submit Fee Waiver Request With Your Application Paperwork
When you have completed and signed the fee waiver request Form I-912, attach it to the rest of the immigration application and supporting documents you're submitting. You cannot submit the fee waiver form separately. You must submit it with the USCIS form for which you want a fee waiver.
It’s a good idea to include a cover letter that tells USCIS what they will find in your packet to make it easier for them to review your submission. It's also a good idea to put your fee waiver application right after the cover letter.
Make copies of the forms for your records, send in copies of supporting documents instead of originals, and use a mailing service that allows tracking. The address where you will send your application packet and fee waiver request is different for different application types. Refer to the application instructions on USCIS’ website and the instructions in our filing guides to figure out where you will need to send your filing packet.
Step. 4: Wait for USCIS To Approve or Deny Your Fee Waiver Request
A USCIS approval of your fee waiver request isn't the same thing as approval for your immigration application. USCIS will process your immigration application separately. If USCIS approves your fee waiver request, that means that you will not have to pay any filing fees for your application.
If USCIS denies your fee waiver request, you will need to pay the required filing and biometrics fees. They will send you a notification explaining how, when, and where to pay these fees. Make sure that you do so ASAP or they may reject your application.
How Will a USCIS Fee Waiver or Reduction Affect My Naturalization Application?
One of the most common applications where immigrants request fee waivers or reductions is citizenship by naturalization. If you're applying to become a U.S. citizen by naturalization, there are three ways that requesting a USCIS fee waiver or reduction could impact your application:
You may have to pay a lower fee or no fee at all.
USCIS may decide that you are no longer eligible to apply for citizenship.
The fee waiver or reduction request may make your naturalization application take longer.
The first option is ideal. After all, that’s why you did the work of filling out a fee waiver or reduction request in the first place!
The second and third options are definitely possibilities, though, so it is really important to consider them before you decide to apply for a fee waiver or fee reduction. Let’s explore them a bit further here.
USCIS may decide that you are no longer eligible to apply for status
When you submit a fee waiver or reduction request with your naturalization application, USCIS may use some of the information in your request to determine if you're still eligible to apply for naturalization.
For example, suppose you disclose in your fee waiver application that you received some public benefits like food stamps when you were not eligible for them. USCIS could see this as fraud and reject your naturalization application on "lack of good moral character" inadmissibility grounds.
This doesn’t happen often, but it’s something to be aware of. As long as you still meet the eligibility requirements for citizenship by naturalization, this shouldn’t happen to you.
If you are worried about something in your past that may raise a red flag with USCIS, it would be a good idea to speak with an experienced immigration attorney. You may qualify for legal representation through legal aid, often at low or no cost.
The Fee Waiver or Reduction Request May Make Your Application Take Longer
When USCIS receives your fee waiver or reduction request, they will have to review it before reviewing your naturalization application. Reviewing your fee waiver or reduction request can slow down your naturalization application, and may lengthen the overall processing time. This is something to consider, especially if you are in a hurry to naturalize.
To get a sense of how long your naturalization application should take, check out our detailed naturalization timeline. This should help you decide whether you can afford a bit of a delay in your application process.