The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives a substantial portion of its funding through application fees but these fees can be a substantial barrier to certain foreign nationals and permanent residents, or green card holders. The USCIS recognizes the potential hardship and offers a fee waiver for certain application fees if an individual is able to demonstrate that he or she is unable to pay the filing fee.
All applications and forms are free and made available on the USCIS’s website. Included in the forms section of the USCIS’s website is the current filing fees. Application filing fees are updated periodically and any changes will be made available on the agency’s website. The fees were last updated on December 23, 2016.
A fee waiver – Form I-912 – is currently available for 31 applications, including Form N-600, Application for Certification of Citizenship; Form N-400, Application for Naturalization; and Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. Form I-912 and which forms qualify for a fee waiver are made available in the instructions PDF on the USCIS’s website.
Fee Waiver Requirements
A fee waiver is available for an eligible form if the applicant can demonstrate any or all of the following: (1) the applicant, his/her spouse, or the head of the house household is currently receiving a means-tested benefit; (2) the applicant’s household income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time of filing; and (3) the applicant is currently experiencing financial hardship that prevents him or her from paying the filing fee.
A. Means-Tested Benefit
A means-tested benefit is a method of determining which individuals qualify for financial assistance programs by limiting those eligible based on financial hardship. A variety of federal, state, and local means-tested benefits are available to eligible low-income households. Well-known federal means-tested benefit programs include but are not limited to: Medicaid, subsidized housing, supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), and supplemental security income (SSI). In contrast, well-known federal programs that do not qualify as means-tested benefits include but are not limited to: Medicare, unemployment benefits, social security, and education grants.
To satisfy the fee waiver requirements an applicant must provide evidence in the form of a letter, notice, or an official document that provides (1) the applicant’s name; (2) the name of the agency granting the applicant the public benefit; (3) the type of benefit; and (4) an indication that the applicant is currently receiving the assistance (expiration date, renewal date, or date granted, if available). Benefit cards are not accepted unless the card contains the above requirements. Additionally, if an applicant is receiving a means-tested benefit that is not well-known outside a geographic region, then the applicant should provide as much information about the program as possible.
A spouse may apply for a fee waiver using their spouse’s means-tested benefit as long as the couple lives together and is not legally separated. Additionally, children under the age of 21 may apply using their parent’s means-tested benefit as long as they submit evidence of the parental relationship, i.e. a birth certificate. The USCIS does not allow parents to apply for a fee waiver using their children’s means-tested benefit.
B. Household Income 150% Below the Federal Poverty Guidelines
To qualify for a fee waiver the applicant must have a household income that is at or below 150% of the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line changes every year and the most updated version is available online. In 2017, a family of four would need to make $46,125 or less a year to qualify.
Household size should be calculated by adding the number of individuals in the following categories that currently live with the applicant: (1) the applicant; (2) the head of the household; (3) spouse; (4) unmarried children under the age of 21; (5) unmarried children over the age of 21, but under the age of 24 who are full-time students; (6) unmarried children who are physically or mentally disabled; (7) parents; and (8) any other dependents listed on the applicant’s federal tax return.
C. Financial Hardship
Financial hardship is defined as any situation that has caused the applicant to incur expenses, debts, or loss of income. Examples include medical expenses, job loss, eviction, or homelessness.
Form I-912 contains a section where the applicant can describe their financial hardship, but additional evidence must be submitted. For example, copies of medical bills, a copy of an eviction notice, or services provided by a homeless shelter. Failing to provide evidence of financial hardship is one of the common reasons an application is denied.
Requesting a Fee Waiver
Form I-912 must be included and submitted with each application for which a fee waiver is requested at the time of submission. Only one fee waiver form is required for all family-related applications filed at the same time. For example, an applicant completing Form N-565, Application for Replacement of Naturalization/Citizenship Document, for three members of the same family only needs to submit one fee waiver request. However, each member of the family must sign the fee waiver request.
Additionally, at the time of filing all evidence and supporting documentation must be completed, all legible photocopies and original documentation submitted, and any information in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified English translation. Specific instruction for completing the request for a fee waiver is available in the instructions PDF on the USCIS’s website.
When all the paperwork is completed and compiled it must be mailed to the address listed in the “Where to Mail” section on the specific application, which means it must be sent to the specific USCIS office that processes the application being filed. An electronic version of the application cannot be submitted with a request for fee waiver.
Standard of Review
The USCIS considers the request for a fee waiver on its own merit, which means the agency considers the applicant’s total financial situation based on the information that is provided. The USCIS does consider affidavits of support when making its determination and will require the benefactor to fulfill his or her obligations to the applicant before granting a fee waiver.
Note: In this article, any referenced government links are subject to change.