U.S. government filing fees for immigration processing can be expensive. However, if you don't earn much money to pay them, and you don't have a lot of assets, you can in some instances ask U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to let you file your application for free. (8 C.F.R. § 103.7.) Here, we'll discuss how to do that, and who qualifies.
Instead of paying the filing fee with your application, you would submit a "Request for Fee Waiver," which USCIS calls Form I-912, and include documents proving that you don't have the funds to pay the application fee. If your request is granted, USCIS will simply continue processing your application.
If your request is denied, USCIS will send back your entire application, along with a letter saying that it won't process it without receiving a fee payment as well. You would then need to resubmit along with the required fee.
You don't file Form I-912 in advance. It must always be sent together with some kind of application or petition for an immigration benefit, such as for a replacement green card or a certificate of citizenship. Also, you can ask USCIS for a fee waiver only when filing certain types of applications or petitions. The instructions for Form I-912 tell you which ones.
Notably, you cannot ask for a fee waiver for most adjustment of status or green card applications, because proving financial capacity is basic to proving eligibility for U.S. residence.
When submitting Form I-912 requesting a fee waiver, this is meant to substitute (at least temporarily) for the check or money order for the fee that you'd otherwise have to pay. But some applicants have wondered whether, in order to save time, it might make sense to submit a "just in case" check. Unfortunately that's a dangerous tactic, because USCIS has been known to ignore the fee waiver request and cash the check.
If filing more than one application or petition at the same time, you need only one Form I-912. (But make sure you list all the different applications or petitions that you're submitting in Part 3 of the I-912.)
However, if you later file another application or petition that has a waivable fee, you'll need to submit another I-912: USCIS won't remember that it let you file other applications for free.
Here are some pointers for filling out the fee waiver form. These refer to the version of Form I-912 that was issued on 9/3/2021.
Part 1: Basis for Your Request
In Part 1, you select the category that best describes your situation. You will provide detailed information later on in the form.
Part 2: Information About You (Requestor)
Part 2 of Form I-912 asks for information about the person who needs the fee waiver. Most likely that's you, but if you're filing an application on behalf of a child or a person whose disability makes them unable to fill out their own paperwork, you would put that person's information in Part 2.
If you use two names as your "last name" or "family name," put them both in the "Family name" box. If you have no "middle name," you can write "(none)" in that box.
Question 3 asks for an Alien Registration Number, sometimes called an "A" number, because it's a series of numbers following the letter A. It's very possible that you don't have an A number. But if you've ever applied for an immigration benefit or been in immigration court, be sure check your immigration paperwork for one. If you don't have an A number, write "N/A" (which means "not applicable") in this box.
Question 4 asks for your USCIS online account number. If you've filed a petition or application electronically, you likely received an account number. If you did not file anything electronically, simply leave this line blank.
Questions 5-7: Provide the date of birth, Social Security Number and marital status for you or the person who is seeking the fee waiver.
Part 3: Applications and Petitions for Which You Are Requesting a Fee Waiver
This asks for the people who are filing the relevant immigration applications needing fee waivers and the form number of the main application or petition being filed. Every form has a number, which you'll see in the top right corner and also the bottom left corner. Be sure to list all applications and petitions you're submitting.
Part 4: Means-Tested Benefits
This asks about whether you or the person receiving the waiver has already been acknowledged as financially needy, and is receiving public benefits on that basis. Showing this can help prove your financial need.
Part 5: Income at or Below 150 Percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
The main way to qualify for a fee waiver if your income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
In Questions 1 and 2, you'll need to detail your income or state whether you are unemployed and if so, how long you've been unemployed and whether you're receiving unemployment benefits. (It's okay if you do, but USCIS needs to assess how much that helps you support yourself.)
In Questions 3 and 4, you will need describe your household; first, whether you are married and your spouse lives in that household. Then, you must state whether you are the primary breadwinner. Next, you will list everyone living in your household, starting with yourself, and count them up (so the government can tell how many people are relying on the income). (If you're not the primary income-provider, put that person's name on the second line, just after yours.)
Provide household members' names, dates of birth, relationship, marital status, whether they are full-time students and whether they are counted in your household income.
In Questions 5-9, you will need to provide information about your annual tax filings and your annual income, the income of household members, and any other sources of income or financial support. Notice the space provided for you to explain changes in your situation after you filed your most recent federal tax return.
You will also need to include documents with your waiver request, proving how much you earn. Your latest federal income tax return or tax transcript is good (especially if you're self-employed). If, however, it doesn't reflect your current income well, you should submit copies of pay stubs or statements from your employer showing how much you're earning right now.
Part 6: Financial Hardship
Here, you have an opportunity to explain any information that might affect your financial situation in ways USCIS wouldn't otherwise know, such as medical expenses or a job loss. Here, too, you will want to attach documentation proving your statements.
You fill this out only if you checked box 3 in Part 1. (Make sure you fill out Part 3, too.) A common reason for filling out this part is that the applicant's income is too high to qualify for a fee waiver, but special circumstances make it hard to pay the fee.
Question 1 offers a big space to explain your hardship. You might, for example, have huge bills that you must pay off every month because of an uninsured disaster to your home, or you might not have been able to work for a while because of an injury or medical condition.
In such situations, USCIS will want to know about your "assets," that is, the value of everything you own that would be easy to turn into cash, including money in the bank. List assets in Question 2. For more information on what counts as assets, see the instructions for Form I-912.
Question 3 is where you list how much you pay every month for things like rent and food, and every other living expense. Be sure to include copies or printouts of all your bills, receipts, invoices, and other documents that show money you have paid out.
Part 7: Requestor's Statement, Contact Information, Certification, and Signature
Anyone filing an application or petition that requires a fee needs to sign the fee waiver request form, and check boxes indicating that they either understood it in English or used an interpreter to translate from a certain language. Family members living in the same household must also sign here, unless they can't honestly say they either speak English or used an interpreter. In the latter case, they'll need to sign in Part 8.
The only signature exception is for children under 14. If a child under 14 needs a fee waiver, a parent or guardian must sign for the child. (But if the parent or guardian already signed for themself, there is no need to sign twice.)
Part 8: Family Member's Statement, Contact Information, Certification, and Signature
The only family members who need to sign here are those who couldn't sign in Part 7, most likely because they (unlike the rest of the family) do not speak English, or needed an interpreter, but for a different language than the one the rest of the family listed in Part 7.
Parts 9 and 10:
These need to be filled out and signed only if an interpreter and/or attorney or paralegal or other assistant helped you understand or prepare the form.
A Form I-912 fee waiver request is never filed alone. As mentioned before, it's filed together with the USCIS application or petition that otherwise requires a fee. So you'll need to know the address of the USCIS office that accepts the application or petition you're filing, and send everything there. This address can normally be found on the same USCIS web page as the one that offers and discusses the form itself.
If you're requesting a fee waiver, then chances are you'd have trouble paying an attorney, as well. Nevertheless, it's worth looking into, since the stakes are high when applying for U.S. immigration benefits, and delays or denials can create long-term barriers to approval. See, for example, How Expensive Is an Immigration Lawyer?.