Are you a lawful permanent resident who is now eligible to apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship? Congratulations! Applying for U.S. citizenship is an exciting moment for most immigrants, and is the last step in the U.S. immigration processes.
Often, immigrants have spent years of waiting, attended multiple immigration interviews, and paid thousands of dollars in filing fees just to get to this point. But what happens when you are finally ready to naturalize, but you cannot afford to pay the filing fee?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers a fee waiver to eligible applicants applying for certain immigration benefits. USCIS outlines the forms that qualify for a fee waiver in its 2011 Policy Memorandum. Fortunately, the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, is one of the applications that is eligible for a fee waiver as outlined in the Policy Memorandum.
To apply for a fee waiver, you will need to fill out Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, and submit any supporting documents. Read Filling Out Form I-912 for a Fee Waiver, for detailed instructions on how to obtain and fill out the form and when to file it.
And carefully read the Instructions for Request for Fee Waiver on USCIS’s website for details on what documents you should submit as evidence of financial hardship.
When deciding whether to approve your I-912 Request for Fee Waiver, USCIS will determines whether you fall into one of the following three categories:
You or a qualified member of your household is currently receiving a means-tested benefit. A means-tested benefit is one for which the person's income and/or resources determine eligibility and/or the benefit amount.
Your household income is at or below the 150% poverty level at the time you file the Request for Fee Waiver; or
You are experiencing a financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee, including unexpected medical bills or emergencies.
If you believe that you may fall into one of these categories, you will need to prove it by submitting supporting documents. If USCIS determines, based on the documentation you submit, that you fall into one of these categories, it will likely approve your Request for Fee Waiver.
Although applicants for naturalization are eligible to apply for a fee waiver, submitting such a request could affect both the merits and the processing of their Application for Naturalization, as follows.
To apply for naturalization, a person must meet multiple requirements, and one of those is that the applicant must prove that he or she is a person of good moral character.
Sometimes, requesting a fee waiver can bring to light issues that go against the good moral character requirement. For example, if a person took advantage of a public benefit to which he or she was not entitled, such as welfare or food stamps, USCIS could find that the person committed fraud.
Or, if the person is struggling financially because of credit judgments against him or her, or filed for bankruptcy, USCIS may find that the individual took advantage of the U.S. economic structure or deprived others of their finances. This could lead to a finding that the individual lacks good moral character.
Additionally, if USCIS finds that the applicant is failing to pay child support, even if the applicant is failing to do so because of a significant financial strain, USCIS can, by law, find that the applicant lacks good moral character.
These are just examples of situations in which USCIS could use information submitted with the Request for Fee Waiver to determine that a person is not eligible for naturalization. If you plan to request a fee waiver along with your naturalization application, carefully review all of the information on Form I-912 and the evidence you submit in support of your request to make sure that you are not highlighting damaging information, or see a lawyer for a full analysis.
Aside from affecting the merits of your naturalization case, applying for a fee waiver can slow down the processing time of your application. When an individual requests a fee waiver, USCIS must first review that request before it can review the Application for Naturalization. And if USCIS determines that an individual is not eligible for a fee waiver, it will send the entire naturalization package back to the applicant to request the filing fee. USCIS will not review the Application for Naturalization and it will not issue a Receipt Notice.
When USCIS returns the package to the applicant, it is as if it never received the application in the first place.
This whole back-and-forth process can slow down USCIS’s processing of the naturalization application by weeks or months. This is important to consider, especially if you are in a hurry to naturalize. Perhaps you want to travel for an extended period of time, but you do not want to violate the terms of your permanent residence. Or maybe an election is coming up in which you plan to vote. When making the decision of whether or not to request a fee waiver, you should consider all of the possible effects.