Form I-485 is the primary form that an intending immigrant must submit to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS) in order to apply for a green card within the United States, through a process called Adjustment of Status. The government costs associated with filing an I-485 form is high. On top of that, you might want to hire an attorney to analyze your eligibility, spot any potential legal problems, and prepare the form itself.
Let's look at how much money you will likely need to set aside for the green-card application process.
If you are adjusting your status based on a job offer and sponsorship by a U.S. employer, that employer will likely pick up all filing and attorney fees. If you do not have an employer picking up the tab, you are in most cases expected to pay the fees yourself, though a waiver is available to some low-income applicants.
Perhaps you are filing to adjust status based on family. If so, you should not request a fee waiver, because it will alert the immigration authorities that you might be inadmissible as a likely "public charge."
If you are applying based on having been admitted as a refugee to the U.S., there is no fee for filing Form I-485. This does NOT apply to asylees (people who were granted asylum at least one year ago), however. They must either pay the fee or request a fee waiver on Form I-912.
Filing fees for I-485 are based on age and certain other factors. The fees are raised fairly regularly (and USCIS had proposed a fee hike for later in 2023), so double check them on the Form I-485 page of the USCIS website.
As of early 2023, the fee for most applicants is $1,140, plus $85 for the biometrics fee (fingerprinting). The base fee includes applications for a work permit (on Form I-765) and, in case you need to travel outside the U.S. before your application is approved, Advance Parole (on Form I-131).
If you are 79 years of age or older, the filing fee is $1,140, but with no added biometrics fee.
If you are under age 14 and filing with at least one parent, you'll need to pay a fee of $750. An applicant under 14 years of age filing without a parent pays the regular fee of $1,140, but no biometrics fee.
You can fill out the immigration paperwork without an attorney's help. However, many people find that the process is highly complicated, and the consequences of making a mistake are quite serious. Paying an attorney can be well worth it.
Many attorneys charge a flat fee for immigration matters such as preparing an adjustment of status application. A flat fee can be a good deal for you, especially if you have a complicated case requiring a lot of research and/or documentation. The attorney will likely do everything you need from completing the application to assembling documents, drafting affidavits, preparing you for your interview, and even attending the interview.
Surveys show an average flat fee for the entire adjustment process of around $3,000.
Paying an hourly rate is also an option. This allows you to pay for only as much of the lawyer's time as you actually need. Hourly rates for immigration attorneys usually range from $150 to $500.
Hourly billing becomes an even better deal for you if you complete the application on your own and ask the attorney to simply review it (though not all attorneys will agree to this, since they might end up spending so much time fixing errors that they would have been better off starting from scratch).
But paying at an hourly rate is also less predictable, and the hours might actually add up to more than you would have paid at a flat rate.
Attorneys charge different rates in different parts of the country, so it's best to contact several attorneys in your area and ask for their fees so you can compare before you hire someone.
The initial consultation with an immigration attorney is likely to be around $100, though in some cases it is free. It is important to trust your instincts when interviewing attorneys and go with the attorney who is not only highly regarded, but with whom you feel comfortable.
If you're thinking about hiring an attorney but are not sure whether you need one, see Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Green Card?