In addition to filing the basic forms and documents to apply for a U.S green card (lawful permanent residence), many applicants must file for a waiver of inadmissibility. In other words, they must ask the U.S. government to forgive or overlook the fact that, for health, criminal, security, financial or other reasons, they are legally ineligible for any form of U.S. entry, much less to be granted a green card. (See the articles on the Inadmissibility and Waivers page of Nolo's website for more information on this topic.)
In many cases, getting a waiver is needed because the immigrant accrued unlawful presence in the U.S., and would be subject to a time bar of three or ten years upon departure for the visa/green card interview at a U.S. consulate.
Understandably, many would-be applicants are worried about how much extra the attorney will charge to do the waiver application, or are shocked to find out that the waiver alone costs as much or more as the basic application.
Let's take a closer look at what services a good attorney should provide for the fee and what these fees typically are.
Contrary to what some believe, preparing a waiver application involves much more than filling out a form and perhaps writing a cover letter. Think of it more like writing a short book about the story of your and your family's life; or perhaps two books. The attorney will need to explore two different sets of scenarios for what would happen if the waiver were denied, including who would suffer extreme hardship if the whole family were to move together to the immigrant's home country, and who would suffer extreme hardship if the immigrant were to move to the home country alone.
Depending on how many qualifying family members you have, and what combinations of issues might cause them hardship, the attorney might need to pursue several lines of inquiry and prepare multiple arguments for USCIS to consider.
The attorney should, for starters, hold lengthy meetings with both the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner and the intending immigrant (called the "beneficiary" in legal language), to find out whether the beneficiary meets the basic criteria for a waiver (for example, has "qualifying relatives" in the U.S.).
These meetings might take place both together and separately, just in case there's something one person needs to talk about that he or she feels uncomfortable about in front of the other person. Depending on what comes up during those meetings, the attorney's tasks in preparing the waiver might:
And this doesn't even count any extra legal research the attorney may need to take on for any tricky facts that emerge, for example if the immigrant has any record of criminal activity or fraud.
Although attorneys charge flat fees for services for many immigration applications, many of them prefer to charge at an hourly rate to prepare a waiver application. That's because it's a much less predictable process than a standard application, for the reasons described above. The hourly rate is usually at least $100.
In total, however, most applicants can expect to pay between $3,500 and $11,000 for preparation of the waiver application. This does not include fees for other portions of the attorney's services or for application fees and other related expenses.
Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But if you've got a good attorney working for you, it can make all the difference in preparing a successful application, and ultimately be well worth the cost.