If you are in the U.S. and thinking of applying for a green card (lawful permanent residence) through the process known as adjustment of status, you've probably heard that it can be an expensive process. Indeed, you are likely to face such costs as application fees, attorney fees, a medical exam fee, and more. These are described below.
The first thing to check, however, is whether you are truly eligible to go this procedural route. Being physically within the U.S. and technically eligible for permanent residence is not necessarily enough, as described in Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status.
The immigrant is not usually the one to pay the first government fee. Before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will let someone apply for a green card, a sponsor, most likely a close U.S. relative or employer (or in rare circumstances the actual immigrant), will likely have to file a petition to classify the immigrant as potentially eligible. There is usually a filing fee for this initial petition, and if the sponsor ("petitioner") isn't paying it, the immigrant must.
The exact dollar amount USCIS will charge for the initial classification petition depends on which petition you'll be using. To find out the fee, go to the Forms page of the USCIS website. Look for either Form I-130, Form I-140, or Form I-360, depending on which must be filed in your case. (No fee waiver is available.)
The next thing to check is the filing fee the immigrant must pay for an adjustment of status application. The exact amount depends on the applicant's age and whether it is a child filing with parents. There is no fee for anyone who entered the U.S. as a refugee. For the latest adjustment of status application fees, go to the USCIS Web page about Form I-485.
There is also a fee for USCIS to take "biometrics" (fingerprints and so forth), which it will do for everyone over age 14 and under age 79 who applies to adjust status. This fee is $85 as of mid-2021.
Although some types of applicants for immigration benefits can apply for a fee waiver if they can't afford to pay the adjustment of status fees, this is unlikely to apply to most applicants, because it makes them potentially inadmissible as a likely public charge.
The current fee structure 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 an application for a work permit (employment authorization document, or "EAD") on Form I-765 and for 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 regularly tries to change its fee levels and structure. Keep your eyes on any changes, because if you send in the wrong fee, your application will be rejected. Another good way to check on fees is the USCIS Fee Schedule.
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 $7,000 in total—in addition to the application fees described above. 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.
You'll need to get a medical exam done, to show that no health-based grounds of inadmissibility will block you from green-card approval. The fee for the medical exam report varies by doctor, but you'll have only a limited number of approved physicians to choose from. Expect to pay between around $75 and $350 for the basic exam and filling out Form I-693, plus extra for any needed vaccinations.
To avoid having to pay this twice (because, if your interview doesn't take place within the one-year validity period of the exam results, they will expire), wait until your interview is scheduled to get the exam, and bring the results to the interview.
By the time you're done collecting all the forms and supporting documents for adjustment of status, you'll have a thick stack of paper. What's more, your safest bet is to send it by certified mail or a courier service, to avoid loss (or to prove to USCIS that it really got there). You'll likely pay at least $10 for mailing.
The immigrant, and in some cases the U.S. petitioner, will need to submit photos with one or more of the applications—as many as five or six photos in total. These will cost around $15 per set.
You will need to attend both a biometrics appointment and an interview at a USCIS office. The transportation and parking costs will depend on how far away you live and whether you might need to spend the night.
Keep in mind that most USCIS offices are in big cities, where parking is expensive. What's more, the safest bet is to park in an actual lot rather than at a parking meter, so that inevitable USCIS delays don't result in you getting an expensive parking ticket!
The only good news about all the delays inherent in the immigration application process is that the immigrant should receive a work permit, and perhaps might find a job to help defray some of these many costs.