Can my family ask USCIS to waive the green-card application fees?

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Question:

I’m a U.S. citizen who just got married to a woman from Mexico.  She has three Mexican-born young children from a past husband. They all came to the U.S.  a few years ago, on tourist visas. I want to help my new family get green cards, but I don’t have enough for the adjustment of status application fees – it adds up to hundreds of dollars! (Her parents are rich, but they don’t approve of me.) I’m working toward my G.E.D., but neither of us have jobs right now. Can we get a fee waiver so we don’t have to pay?

Answer:

There are some applications for which it’s possible to ask U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to waive the fees -- but this isn't one of them. USCIS will not even consider a fee waiver request for Form I-485 if it's from an applicant who must prove that he or she is not likely to become a public charge – that is, receive need-based government assistance (including what many people call “welfare”)

The trouble is, every family-based applicant for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) faces the challenge of proving that it’s unlikely he or she will become a “public charge.” Those who fail in this task are considered "inadmissible," or ineligible for a U.S. green card.

In order to prove that an applicant is unlikely to become a public charge, the U.S. citizen petitioner is required to submit an “Affidavit of Support” on USCIS Form I-864, showing the ability and willingness to support the immigrants (and any other dependents) at 125% or more of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines.

It sounds like, from what you’ve described, you would need to show sufficient income to support a family of five. The required amount changes every year, but you can expect to have to show an income of over $30,000 a year.

Are you and your new family stuck? Possibly not, but your best bet is likely to find a friend or family member who is willing to help out financially and sign an additional Form I-864 for your wife and stepchildren. That’s a lot to ask of someone, as described in “What Sponsors Should Know Before Signing Form I-864 Affidavit of Support.”

While you’re at it, you might want to ask that person to lend you money for the application fees.  The good news is that as soon as you have submitted the adjustment of status applications, your wife will be able to receive a U.S. work permit, so perhaps could contribute to the family income. Her income will count toward yours, in this situation.

For more information on this entire process, see “Family Sponsors Petitioning for Immigrants” or consult an experienced immigration attorney. (Yes, attorneys cost money too, but they usually charge flat fees in this type of case, so you can plan ahead – and maximize your chances that the cases will be approved.)

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