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Becoming a U.S. permanent resident or naturalized citizen is a lengthy and expensive process. According to DoughRoller, “if we add up all the various fees required to come to the US and obtain citizenship, the total falls somewhere between $4,000 and $11,300. Most people end up spending between $6,000 and $8,000.” This is a significant cost, and financial planning is an important part of your immigration journey.
The Costs Of Immigrating To The US
USCIS Form Filing Fees
When you submit an application with USCIS, there are various fees involved. The filing fee depends on the type of your residency application. Application for nonimmigrant status is usually cheaper than an immigrant petition.
A petition for a nonimmigrant worker in 2019, for instance, costs $325 while an immigrant petition for an alien worker costs $580.
Petition fees vary from one application to another. Asylum seekers do not have to pay a petition fee but for all other petitions, there are filing fees.
Among these immigrant petition fees, Petitioning an Alien Fiancé costs or an Alien Relative is the cheapest at $535 in 2019. Application for Adjustment of Status for Permanent Residence which applies to people already in the US and seeking a change in status is $1,140. The most expensive of these petitions is the Immigrant Petition by an Alien Entrepreneur which is $3,675.
Hiring an attorney is not a requirement for immigration but having one can help move the process along, especially with the constant changes in immigration rules.
The standard legal fee for an immigration lawyer range from $3,000 to $4,000 for an H-1B visa. Fees may easily go up to $10,000 if you have a deportation issue. Family-Based Petitions typically cost between $800 to $1,500.
Medical and Vaccination Costs
The US requires applicants to undergo a medical exam and receive vaccinations for certain diseases before immigrating.
You need to be vaccinated for diseases like mumps, measles, rubella, and polio. The total cost of these vaccinations including the medical exam can be around $1,000.
After becoming a permanent resident, you may consider becoming a naturalized citizen. Being a citizen allows you to vote and petition relatives.
The Naturalization Fee is currently $725 - $640 for application processing and $85 for biometric services. Applicants under 14 years old and over 70 do not need to pay the biometric fee.
Citizenship Test Prep Materials
Before taking your citizenship test, it may be helpful to take preparation classes. Program fees vary among different providers.
The USCIS has a list of schools and organizations offering preparation classes – some are paid programs and some are free.
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If you have a negative immigration history or a criminal record, you may have to submit additional forms and documents or pay for additional legal help. You should also consider postage from your home country, transportation, and other incidental expenses.
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Strategies to Reduce the Cost of US Immigration
Strategy #1: Shop around for legal help, but don’t select a bottom of the barrel attorney
Having a lawyer can increase the chances of receiving approval for your immigration application. Attorneys can charge between $150 to $300 per hour. Two firms our clients have had success working with are Murthy Law and Fragomen. To reduce the cost of legal assistance, consider hiring an attorney outside a major metropolitan area since they often charge lower rates.
Strategy #2: Explore free or low-cost resources from CitizenPath and Boundless which can help you file documents and applications without an attorney.
Strategy #3: Apply for fee reduction or fee waiver for USCIS fees. Applicants with financial hardship may also apply for a Fee Waiver for certain forms by filing Form I-912.
You may be eligible for a fee waiver if:
you have a financial hardship
your income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
you are receiving a means-tested benefit. Means-tested benefit refers to a public benefit for low-income families.
If your household income is between 150 to 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, and you are filing an application for naturalization, you may be eligible for reduced fees. If you are eligible, you only have to pay $405 ($320 for applicants who are 75 and up. Military applicants do not have to pay any filing fee).
Strategy #4: Take advantage of pro bono immigration services. Organizations such as the New York Legal Assistance Group and Catholic Legal Immigration Network offer free immigration assistance.
Strategy #5: Enroll in free citizenship and English preparation classes. There are several organizations offering these programs. Local libraries, churches, and community organizations in your area may offer them.
Strategy #6: Look for immigration cost grants in your city or state. USCIS offers grants covering the cost of the citizenship application fee. You may also check if there are other programs you may be eligible for in your locality.
Strategy #7: Get your employer to cover the costs. If you are going to the US for work, your employer may sponsor your immigration fees.
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Tips For Finding The Money To Pay For Your Immigration Costs
Budget: Budget for immigration costs and open a separate savings account for it. You have five years (three if you marry a US citizen) to save up for your citizenship fee. Among all options, self-funding your immigration cost is the cheapest and most convenient way to cover immigration-related expenses.
Use A Credit Card: Charge USCIS fees to your credit card. In 2018, USCIS announced that it will accept credit card payments for documents processed at their Lockbox Facilities. If you have a low-interest credit card that allows you to pay charges in installment, it may be cheaper to charge the filing fee to your credit card.
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Get Financing: If you need money to cover your immigration cost, you can get a loan. You would have better chances of getting a loan with lower interest rates if you have a US credit history of at least 2 years and a stable job.
Create A Financial Plan For Your Immigration Journey
Immigrating to the US is a big financial commitment. Before making the leap, assess all costs related to the process especially if you do not have employer sponsorship.
Don’t forget to consider the tax implications! If you have significant financial assets in your home country and you become a US tax resident, reporting requirements and tax consequences can be complicated.
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