Every family-based green card application process starts by filing forms such as the I-130, I-485, and DS-260, depending on the location of the green card application beneficiary. Each of these application forms has its own filing fees. In addition, there are other expenses, such as immigration medical exam fees, biometric service fees, and many more. All these make up the total cost of a family-based green card application. If you are pursuing permanent residence under the family-based category, this article gives you a breakdown of all the expenses from the beginning to the end of this process.
What Kinds of Family-Based Green Cards Are There?
Are you interested in getting a family-based green card or sponsoring someone for one? Are you planning to come with several family members? In some cases, you may find yourself petitioning for more than one type. It helps to know which ones are available and which ones are appropriate for your situation. For starters, there are two main categories of family-based green cards.
These green cards are only available to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. If you keep up with the monthly visa bulletins released by the Department of State, you will see that these green cards have been excluded. This is because one of the main benefits of these is the fact that the priority dates for IR visas are automatically current, meaning that there is no obligatory waiting period once the petition has been approved.
Here are the five IR green cards:
- IR-1: This is for the spouses of U.S citizens
- IR-2: This green card is for a U.S citizen’s unmarried children who are under the age of 21
- IR-3: This third level would be used for an orphan who was previously adopted by the U.S. citizen in a foreign country.
- IR-4: In the same vein as the previous level, this one is for orphans who are being brought to the U.S. to be adopted
- IR-5: Lastly, the fifth level is for the parent of a U.S. citizen who is over the age of 21.
These green cards are available to the non-immediate relatives of U.S. citizens as well as the immediate relatives of lawful permanent residents (green card holders). In contrast to the IR green cards, these do have backlogged priority date waiting times.
- F-1: for the unmarried children over the age of 21 of U.S. citizens
- F-2: for the children under 21, spouses, and unmarried children over 21 of lawful permanent residents. There are two subcategories for this, the F-2A and the F-2B.
- F-3: for the married children of U.S. citizens as well as their spouses and any children they might have.
- F-4: for the siblings (brothers and sisters) of U.S. citizens
You will need to select the green card that best fits your situation and that of the person who is receiving the visa.
Which Forms Do You Need for a Family-Based Green Card?
The forms that are usually required for the family-based green card preference categories depend on which path was used to apply for the green card. However, there are a few forms that are required for all situations:
- I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This petition should be filed by your U.S. citizen sponsor.
- I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You must submit this after the I-130 has been approved.
If you entered or are entering the U.S. under a nonimmigrant K visa (meaning that you are the fiancé(e), spouse, or dependents of a fiancé(e) or spouse of a U.S. citizen), then there are several more forms that may be required before you can get a green card based on your situation.
- I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) – this is needed if you enter with K-1 or K-3 status.
- I-134 Affidavit of Support form. This form has no filing fee but is required as evidence that you will not need to rely on the U.S. government for financial support.
- In order to apply for your K visa, you will need the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application from the Department of State.
- If you would like to work in the U.S. while your green card is being processed, then you will need the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.
- To travel in and out of the U.S. under K status during your green card processing time, an I-131 or I-131A Application for Travel Document is required.
Please note that this may or not be an exhaustive list depending on your situation. Because each immigration case is different, it is always advisable to consult with your immigration attorney to confirm which forms apply to your circumstances.
The USCIS Fee Schedule 2020
As of 2020, if you are filing a family-based green card, the following are the required fees for each of the application forms involved.
- I-130 has increased from $420 to $535
- I-485 has increased from $985 to $1,140
- I-129F has increased from $340 to $535
- I-765 has increased from $380 to $410
- I-131(A) has increased from $360 to $575
To see the consular processing fees, you will need to check your home country’s embassy website as the cost varies according to the nation of origin.
It is important to note that not all of these forms are mandatory family-based green card filing fees. Depending on your case, some of these forms may not apply to you while other forms may apply that are not on this list.
A Brief History of Hikes in Family-Based Green Card Filing Fees
The timeline for immigration processing fees hikes dates back to the 1980s when Congress allowed the immigration agency to set their fees for various immigration processes. Though immigration applicants have been paying application fees for more than a century, a look at decades past shows that these fees were much lower than in recent years. In fact, the family-based green card fee (for both I-130 and I-485 forms) in 1985 was $85. It then rose to $100 in 1989, to $195 in 1991, to $330 in 1998. By 2004, the figure had risen to $500.
This increase continued until 2007 when it jumped again from $500 to $1,285, with an 88% increase.
The recent increase (from 2007 to date) shows that family-based green card and other immigration application processing fees have been rising far above the inflation rate. Here is a look at the 2016 and 2020 changes:
2016: On December 23, 2016, the USCIS posted a new fee schedule that effectively raised the fees associated with almost every USCIS form available. The USCIS implemented a new fee schedule that made some drastic changes to both temporary nonimmigrant as well as permanent immigrant visa categories. In 2016, the filing fees family-based green card rose from $1,285 to $1,520.
2020: Finally, on November 14, 2019, the USCIS proposed yet another change to petition filing fees, including family-based green card application forms. The agency planned to make the changes effective 2020. Though the rule has yet to be effective, if it does, green card applicants should expect an increase in the current fees.
Consular Processing Fees for Family-Based Green Card
If the beneficiary is outside the United States, once the I-130 petition is approved by the USCIS, he or she would need to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is called consular processing.
Just like other immigration processes, there are certain fees attached to this process as well. As of 2020, the immigrant visa application fee for a family-based green card is $325. Added to the $535 for I-130 form, the total will be $860. Of course, you will have to factor other expenses like the medical exam, cost of transportation to and fro the embassy, photocopies of documents, and others.
How Should I Make These Payments?
The USCIS gives specific guidelines as to how filing fees should be paid. While a few application form fees can be paid online (the I-131A form, for example), most must be paid through the mail or in person.
The USCIS accepts cashier’s checks, personal checks, money orders, and bank drafts. Each fee must be paid in a separate payment, so avoid adding the fees together into one large payment sum.
If you decide to pay in person at a U.S. field office, you will be able to pay with a credit card.
Because the payment requirements associated with some forms depend on your country of citizenship, you can visit this website to get a better understanding of how these payments should be made.
What Other Costs Are Involved?
Without the help of a qualified immigration attorney, some costs that are not associated with specific filing fees can easily go unnoticed until it’s too late.
For example, for many K visa scenarios, there is a mandatory biometric fee for $85 that will be asked of you when you file your petition. If this fee is not included, then your petition will be rejected.
There is also an immigrant fee that must be paid once you receive your visa and before you enter the U.S. For family-based green card situations, this fee only applies to those who receive their green card while outside the U.S. K visa holders do not have to pay this cost if they are adjusting their status.
One cost that is often overlooked is travel cost. Going to and from the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home country can be expensive if you do not live nearby. Plus, depending on where your home country is located, your plane ticket to the U.S. could cost hundreds of dollars.
There is also a fee if you decide to hire an immigration attorney. While this fee adds to the list of costs associated with acquiring your green card, having an experienced lawyer on your side can save you not only money but also time by helping you file each form correctly and assisting you through the interview process.
Can I Get a Waiver for My Family-Based Green Card Fees?
You may get a waiver for some of the fees if you meet certain criteria. The USCIS allows fee waivers for certain immigration applications, including family-based green cards. To qualify for a waiver, you must demonstrate that you cannot afford the filing fee as a result of any of the following reasons:
- The total annual income of your household is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
- You are currently burdened with financial hardship such as unemployment or large medical expenses.
Keep in mind that not all green card application forms have a fee waiver option. You can only waive the I-485 form and biometric service fees. You can request a fee waiver by submitting the I-129 form along with evidence showing that you meet the eligibility requirements.
Immigration Medical Examination Fee 2020
The immigration medical exam is compulsory for all applicants getting family-based green cards. The results of the exam are used to determine if an applicant has a disease or infection that could threaten the public health of the United States residents.
The examination will be done by a physician accredited by the U.S. embassy abroad or the USCIS if the applicant is in the United States. Neither the embassies nor the USCIS regulates the medical examination fees as they vary among accredited physicians. However, on average, you should expect to pay between $100 to $500.
Immigration Attorney Fee
Though optional, you will need to factor it in if you are going to engage the service of an expert to make your application process hitch-free and improve your chances of green card approval. Attorney fees vary widely among immigration lawyers.
Keep in mind that the cheapest option isn’t always the best one. You will need to compare what each attorney proposes to offer in their green card application service. You may be charged a flat rate for the preparation of various documentations involved in your I-130 petition.
If you want further services after the approval of the I-130 form, you can discuss the fees for other steps, such as I-485, I-131 and I-756 forms.
Can I Get a Refund on My Family-Based Green Card Filing Fees?
Unfortunately, the USCIS will not give out a refund for an unfavorable decision on one of your petitions or applications. The circumstances that warrant a refund are as follows:
- The USCIS mistakenly asked you to file a form that was not necessary.
- A form was processed with a fee that was greater than that which is required.
- The USCIS did not process a petition filed with premium processing within 15 calendar days.
There may be extraordinary circumstances that could also warrant a refund of your family-based green card filing fees. If you and your immigration attorney feel that you deserve a refund, contact the USCIS.
Family-Based Green Card to Citizenship Filing Fees
If you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen after obtaining your green card, you will have to follow a certain process and pay certain fees. If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you can file for citizenship after three years of being a lawful permanent resident. If your green card was sponsored by a lawful permanent resident, you will have to wait for five years after becoming a lawful permanent resident yourself. In either case, the following fees are the cost of transitioning from a family-based green card holder to a U.S. citizen:
- N-400 Form: $640
- Biometric Services: $85
The good thing about naturalization processing fees is that you may get a fee waiver or reduction in case you can’t afford the fees. Of course, as in most circumstances, you must meet certain eligibility criteria for a fee reduction or waiver. Also, if you are over the age of 74, you will not need to pay for a biometric fee, reducing the total cost to $640.