If you are thinking of applying for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), you are probably wondering how much it will cost. The U.S. government charges fees at various steps along the way, and you’ll need to pay for various other expenses, as well.
The first factor that will determine the costs you bear is the procedural method by which you’ll be applying for a green card: either consular processing, in which you deal primarily with an overseas U.S. consulate in order to receive an immigrant visa in advance of your green card; or adjustment of status, in which you deal solely with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the United States.
This article discusses the fees for consular processing.
(If you are physically within the U.S. and eligible for adjustment, as described in “Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status,” see instead the article, “How Much It Costs to Get a Green Card by Adjustment of Status.”)
Consular Processing Application Fees
The category of green card that you apply for, and the applications that you need to file accordingly, determine the exact amounts that you will need to pay the U.S. government as the process goes forward.
Many type of green card applications start with a visa petition, prepared by a family member or employer (your “petitioner”) and filed with USCIS. If your petitioner didn’t ask you to pay the filing fee for this initial petition that’s one less fee for you to worry about.
Although your family or employer will be the one to sign and submit the initial petition, there’s nothing to stop them from asking you to pay or reimburse them for these fees. If you have to pay, how much USCIS will charge can be found on the Forms page of the agency’s website. For example, family petitioners file Form I-130; self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and other special immigrant programs file Form I-360; fiancé visa petitioners file Form I-129F; and employers file Form I-140. To see the filing fee, search the USCIS Forms page for the appropriate form number. In September 2015, the fee for an I-130 was $420; for an I-360 it was $405 (with exemptions for VAWA and many other applicants); for an I-129F it was $340; and for an I-140, $580. These fees are usually raised every few years.
If applying for a green card through a job offer, your employer will have already had to pay various fees even before the I-140, to obtain what’s known as labor certification. You, the intending immigrant, can’t be asked to pay those. It’s illegal for employers to make you pay for any part of the labor certification process (including attorney fees for that), so don’t do it. You can’t agree to reimburse your employer for labor certification costs later, either.
After the initial petition is approved, the next step is for your file to be transferred to the National Visa Center (NVC). If you’re applying for an “immigrant visa,” the NVC will send you an immigrant visa application fee invoice, and, if you are required to submit an affidavit of support that will be processed in the U.S., a fee invoice for that too.
As of September 2015, the immigrant visa application fee was $325 for family-based applicants, $345 for employment-based applicants, and $330 for diversity visa applicants. The affidavit of support processing fee was $120. (See the State Department’s “I-864 Affidavit of Support (FAQs)” page for information on who has to pay this fee.)
If you’re applying for a fiancé (K-1) visa, you will need to pay a “machine readable visa” (MRV) fee before or at your visa interview at the U.S. consulate. You will be given instructions on how and where to pay this fee—each consulate has its own preferred method of payment. (Often you pay online by credit card, or at a particular bank in your home country.) As of September 2015 the MRV fee for fiancé visa applications was $265.
See the “Fees for Visa Services” page of the State Department’s website for the current fees.
If you are successful in getting an immigrant visa, there is one last fee you have to pay. USCIS charges an “immigrant fee,” to cover the expense of creating your green card. As of September 2015, that fee was $165. You have to pay the USCIS immigrant fee online. It’s best to do this before you leave for the United States—otherwise it will take a lot longer to get your actual “green card” in the mail. See the "Immigrant Fee" page of the USCIS website for details on how to pay.
If you are applying for a green card as the fiancé of a U.S. citizen (or by using a K-3 visa for spouses of a U.S. citizen, though the K-3 visa is virtually obsolete), you don’t pay the USCIS immigrant fee. Instead, you will need to apply for adjustment of status after you are in the United States. See “How Much It Costs to Get a Green Card by Adjustment of Status” for details.
You might want to hire an attorney to help with the analysis of your green card eligibility as well as the paperwork. If your case presents major complications, you could even hire the attorney to accompany you to the interview at the U.S. consulate, if attorneys are allowed at your consulate (though this will be expensive, given that you might have to fly an attorney from the U.S.). Many, but not all, immigrant visa cases require an interview at the U.S. consulate; and it’s pretty much guaranteed in marriage-based green card applications.
Most attorneys will quote you a flat fee. The attorney may allow you to pay part of it at the beginning and the rest at the end. The amount of the fee depends on factors like:
- how many people are applying as a family unit (more obviously raises the attorney’s fee, though each additional person over the primary applicant may receive a discount)
- whether your case presents any complications such as a past criminal conviction that the attorney must analyze or help you prepare to deal with
- whether you need to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility, for example for health reasons or past immigration violations in the U.S. (which can add a significant amount of time to what the attorney will spend on the application, and may be charged at an hourly rate—probably at least $150 an hour), and
- whether the attorney charges separately for expenses such as plane fare, phone calls, photocopying, mailing, and so on (as is common),
Realize, however, that if anything unexpected comes up – for instance, you are arrested before the case is done, or reveal a pending divorce proceeding that the attorney hadn’t factored into the case – the costs will go up.
Other Costs of Applying for an Immigrant Visa
A variety of other costs will add to your expenses when applying for a U.S. green card. These include:
- postage to mail your application(s) to USCIS, the NVC, or the U.S. consulate
- medical exam fee (varies by doctor and country, plus extra for any needed vaccinations)
- travel expenses if you need to travel for the medical exam separately from your trip for your consular interview (in some but not all countries, you must get the exam done many days before the consular interview, which may require a separate trip to a city where the exam can be done by an approved physician)
- police certificates, which you must obtain from countries in which you've lived -- some but not all countries charge a fee for this
- photos (depends on local rates), and
- transportation and possibly accommodations when traveling to the U.S. consulate for your interview.
For more information on procedural matters to do with your green card application, see the “Consular Processing” section of Nolo’s website.