Applying for U.S. Asylum: How Much Will It Cost?

Expect to pay not only the attorney's fee, but for other costs associated with preparing an asylum case such as a psych evaluation and expert witness services.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you are considering applying for asylum in the United States, because you fear persecution upon returning to your home country, expense is no doubt on your mind. Let's break down the different types of costs associated with preparing and submitting an asylum application, including:

  • application fees
  • legal fees (and ways to minimize them), and
  • other associated fees.

USCIS Application Fee

Unlike with many other types of immigration applications, you need not pay a fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to submit an affirmative application for asylum. The U.S. government has, at various times, considered implementing a fee, but so far has not done so.

For tips on filling out the required form (the Asylum and Withholding of Removal Application), see Filling Out Form I-589 Application for Asylum.

Fees for Hiring a Lawyer for an Asylum Case

Hiring an attorney is advisable, given the complexities of asylum law and the application process and the importance of attaching extensive supporting documentation and potentially writing legal memos or brief and making legal arguments. You probably know that lawyers are rarely cheap. The asylum lawyer's fee will depend on numerous factors, including:

  • the attorney's experience and reputation with asylum cases
  • the time and labor required to prepare and present your case
  • the normal lawyer's fee for a comparable asylum case in the city or region where you live, and
  • any time limitations affecting your asylum case.

A complex asylum 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 (both of which are bars to asylum), or where you've got only one week left until the one-year deadline to submit your I-589 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. An affirmative application to USCIS will cost less than one where you are in removal proceedings before an immigration judge (where the attorney will definitely have to prepare written motions and legal briefs in addition to the rest of the evidence, and likely appear in immigration court several times)

For an affirmative application, the attorney might charge a flat fee, with the reported average somewhere between $3,500 and $8,000. Some attorneys also charge flat fees for removal proceedings, but because court proceedings are lengthy and less predictable, these will be higher at the outset (more in the neighborhood of $8,000 to $15,000) or the attorney might simply charge an hourly rate. And those hours can mount quickly

If your case is denied by the Immigration Court but you want to fight deportation by filing one or more appeals (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. These are largely paperwork tasks, but drafting an appeal can require extensive research, and writing itself takes time.

Finding an Attorney If You Can't Afford the Usual Fees for an Asylum Case

If you cannot afford to hire an asylum attorney, there are nonprofit organizations throughout the United States 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 (the policies of which make it difficult to obtain funding if the organization represents undocumented immigrants, which most nonprofits cannot help but do).

The U.S. immigration court maintains a list of organizations and attorneys qualified under the regulations to provide free or low-cost legal services. However, because demand for such services is high, you might 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 in private practice might decide to provide volunteer, pro bono services. Often, however, these are coordinated through a nonprofit (which is easier and more efficient for everyone concerned).

Other Fees When Applying for Asylum in the U.S.

The attorney's fees might not be your only costs.

For starters, the attorney will likely require you to separately pay for costs of incidental items like mailing, photocopying, attorney 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. Such exams can be important in, for example, proving that your injuries are consistent with known torture practices, or indicating that you have symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) consistent with having been imprisoned, harassed, or otherwise persecuted.

If you are in immigration court proceedings and your case can be strengthened by an expert witness testifying or preparing a report on your behalf, you would likely have to pay the expert, or at least pay their travel costs if they appear in person. The witnesses testimony might, for example, be important in establishing country conditions or providing little-known details about your minority religion, opposition political party, known identity or affiliation within your country, and the like.

Also, there might be fees for the translation of foreign documents. You will need to submit various documents to prove your identity and other aspects of your case, but the immigration judge will not be able to read these unless they are in English. However, it's possible to have a friend perform this task (if they're fluent in both languages). See Sample Format for Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications.

Finally, you will have to pay for transportation to and from the asylum office or immigration court, as well as accommodation fees if the office is in a city far from where you live.

Next Steps

The best way to keep your asylum costs low is to avoid waiting until the last minute to find an attorney, collect needed documents, and take other steps to prepare your case. Rush jobs always cost more, whether it's because of the attorney's time constraints or the need for overnight courier service. For additional relevant tips, see How to Find a Good Immigration Lawyer For Your Case.

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