I am considering applying for asylum in the United States, because I fear returning to my country, but I'm not sure I can afford it. How expensive it is to apply for asylum?
Let's break this down into different types of costs.
Before going into the specifics on the various fees for hiring an attorney for your case, let's discuss the government's application fee to apply for asylum. Until now, there has been no fee. But USCIS planned to add a $50 fee starting on October 2, 2020.
The fee change is currently the subject of lawsuits and a court injunction, however. So until further notice, you need not pay a fee to apply for asylum. For tips on filling out the required form (the Asylum and Withholding of Removal Application), see Filling Out Form I-589 Application for Asylum.
If you do plan on hiring an attorney; which is advisable, given the complexities of the application process and the importance of attaching extensive supporting documentation; the fee will depend on numerous factors.
These include the attorney's experience and reputation, the time and labor required in your case, the normal fee for a comparable case in the city or region where you live, and any time limitations affecting your case. A complex case, for example, where the attorney must help you argue that you were not firmly resettled in a third country or did not persecute others, or where you've got only one week left until the one-year deadline to submit your application, might cost thousands of dollar more than a straightforward one.
Also, keep in mind that attorney fees depend in part on the procedural stage at which you are requesting asylum. A late application will cost extra, for example (as described in Can I Still Apply for Asylum After the One-Year Filing Deadline?).
And if you are in removal proceedings (where the attorney will have to prepare written motions and legal briefs in addition to the rest of the evidence, and likely appear in court several times), the fees are likely to be higher than if you are submitting an affirmative application to USCIS within one year of arriving in the United States.
If your case is denied by the Immigration Court but you want to appeal (first to the Board of Immigration Appeals, then possibly to the federal circuit court of appeals, and ultimately perhaps to the U.S. Supreme Court), you will need to separately pay the attorney for those services.
If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, there are nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. that offer these services for free or at a reduced cost. "Nonprofit" means that they raise their own funds in order to help people, mostly from individual donors and foundations rather than the U.S. government (which makes it difficult to obtain funding if the organization represents undocumented immigrants, which most nonprofits cannot help but do).
The immigration court maintains a list of organizations and attorneys qualified under the regulation to provide free or low-cost legal services. However, because demand for such services is high, you may find that you have to call many nonprofits before finding one that has the space to help you. Do not wait until the last minute to start asking around!
Further, although it is up to the attorney you ask, some attorneys may decide to provide volunteer, pro bono services.
The application and attorney's fees might not be your only costs.
For starters, the attorney will likely require you to separately pay for costs of incidental things like mailing, photocopying, his or her phone calls on your behalf, and so forth. (Check the contract you sign for the attorney's services for details on this.)
If the attorney recommends that you have a separate medical or psychological evaluation, you would likely have to pay for this, as well. If you are in immigration proceedings and require an expert witness, you would likely have to pay the expert. Also, there might be fees for the translation of foreign documents. If you are appealing your asylum case, there will likely be applicable court fees, as well.