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 what's called 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. In many cases, getting a waiver is needed because the immigrant accrued unlawful presence in the United States, 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.
(See relevant articles on the Inadmissibility and Waivers page of Nolo's website for details.)
Understandably, would-be applicants are often worried about how much extra the attorney will charge to do this waiver application, or are shocked to find out that the waiver alone costs as much or more as the basic application for lawful U.S. residence. Let's take a closer look at what services a good attorney should provide for the fee and what the fees typically are in an I-601 waiver case.
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 to your qualifying U.S. relatives (spouse or parents, and in some cases children) if the waiver were denied and the green card application were therefore denied as well, including:
Depending on how many qualifying family members in the United States you (as the primary visa applicant) 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 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 United States).
These meetings might take place both together and separately, just in case there's something one person needs to talk about that they feel uncomfortable about in front of the other person.
Depending on what comes up during the meetings, the attorney's tasks in preparing the waiver might include:
And this doesn't even count any extra legal research the attorney might 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, and often much more. Expect especially high rates in big cities.
In total, however, most applicants can expect to pay between $3,500 and $11,000 for preparation of the I-601 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 for an I-601 waiver, and ultimately be well worth the cost.