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 and filed with USCIS. If you’ve already got an approved visa petition in, you can skip that fee.
If not, 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 VAWA and other special immigrant programs file Form I-360, fiancé visa petitioners file Form I-129F; and employers file Form I-140. Scroll down until you see the appropriate form number. In 2013, the fee for an I-130 was $420; for an I-360 was $405 (with exemptions for VAWA and many other applicants); for an I-129F was $340; and for an I-140, $480. These fees are raised regularly, however.
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, won’t be asked to pay those.
Although your family or employer will be the one to sign and submit the visa petition, there’s nothing to stop them from asking you to reimburse for these fees.
After the visa petition is approved, the next step is for your file to be transferred to the National Visa Center (NVC). This agency will, if you are applying for an immigrant visa through family, send your petitioner instructions for paying the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support ($88 as of 2013; see the State Department’s “I-864 Affidavit of Support (FAQs)” page for updates). The NVC will forward your file to the appropriate U.S. consulate when a visa becomes available for you.
Before or at your visa interview at the U.S. consulate, you will also need to pay a visa processing fee. In 2013 these were, for example, $230 for family-based applicants, $405 for employment-based applicants, $330 for diversity visa applicants, and $240 for fiancé visa applicants. (See the “Fees for Visa Services” page of the State Department’s website for updates.)
USCIS also charges an immigrant visa processing fee, to cover the expense of creating your green card. As of 2013, that fee was $165. You will need to pay it online, before leaving for the United States. See the "Immigrant Fee" page of the USCIS website for details.
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), this isn’t the end of the line, however. 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 the U.S. 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 in advance, and ask you to pay part of it at the beginning and the rest at the end. Exactly where it falls on this range 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.