If you are thinking of applying for a green card (lawful permanent residence) within the U.S., through the process known as adjustment of status, you have probably already heard that it can be an expensive process.
(The first thing to make sure of, however, is that you are even eligible to go this procedural route; the mere fact of being physically within the U.S. and eligible for permanent residence is not necessarily enough to make you adjustment-eligible, as described in Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status.
Indeed, you are likely to face a number of expenses, including application fees, attorney fees, and other related fees, as described below.
Before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can let you apply for a green card, someone, such as a close relative or employer, or even in some circumstances yourself, will likely have to file a petition to classify you as potentially eligible. There is usually a filing fee for this petition, and if your petitioner isn’t paying it, you must.
How much USCIS will charge for the initial classification petition can be found on the Forms page of the USCIS website. Look at the fee for Form I-130, I-140, or I-360, depending on which petition is being filed in your case. (No fee waiver is available.)
After that, the filing fee for an adjustment of status application is in addition to any fee paid for the initial petition. The exact fee depends on your age and whether you’re a child filing with parents. There is no fee for anyone who entered the U.S. as a refugee.
There is also a fee for USCIS to take the “biometrics” (fingerprints, and so forth) of everyone over age 14 and under age 79 who applies to adjust status. This fee is (in 2020) $85.
For the latest adjustment of status application and biometrics fees, go to the USCIS Web page about Form I-485. You’ll see a chart explaining what fees to pay, depending on your age and reason for applying. The total is usually over $1,000.
Although some types of applicants for immigration benefits can apply for a fee waiver if they can’t afford to pay, this is unlikely to apply to you in an adjustment of status case, because it would make you potentially inadmissible as a public charge.
Fortunately, the current fee structure (early 2020) is such that you don’t need to tack on separate fees for several important applications that you probably want to file along with your adjustment of status application. The USCIS fee for Form I-485 covers your application for a work permit (employment authorization document, or “EAD”) on Form I-765 and advance parole (the right to leave the U.S. while your application is in processing without it being canceled because you “abandoned” it) on Form I-131. It’s best to file all three of these together. Even if you don’t, however, you don’t have to pay these two fees so long as your I-485 application is still pending (awaiting a USCIS decision).
Be warned, though: USCIS is in the process of rethinking its fee levels and structure, so all of the above might change soon.
It’s a good idea to hire an attorney to help with the analysis of your green card eligibility as well as the paperwork. If your case presents any complications, you would also be wise to hire the attorney to accompany you to the interview at USCIS. (Many, but not all cases require an in-person interview; and it’s pretty much guaranteed in marriage-based applications.)
Expect to pay the attorney somewhere between $3,000 and $7,500 in total—in addition to the application fees described above. These fees have gone up sharply in recent years, in light of the additional work required to fill out forms and prepare documents to comply with the Trump Administration's harsh regulations on proving that you're not likely to rely on government assistance as a "public charge."
Most attorneys will quote you a flat fee in advance, and ask you to pay part of it at the beginning and the rest at the end. Exactly where it falls on this range depends on factors like:
Realize, however, that if anything unexpected comes up—for instance, an applicant is arrested before the case is done, or a spouse in a marriage-based case reveals a pending divorce proceeding that the attorney hadn’t factored into the case before—the costs will go up, in order to deal with this change.
A host of other fees will add to your expenses when applying for adjustment of status. These include:
The only good news about all the delays inherent in this process is that the immigrant should receive a work permit, and perhaps might find a job to help out. Expect even longer delays in the age of the coronavirus, when USCIS offices might be closed to personal visits.