A government form called the "I-130 Petition for Alien Relative" is what a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must submit to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to sponsor a qualifying relative for permanent residence (a green card) in the United States.
See The I-130 Petition: Information for Family Sponsors, for information on the general application process and rules. This article discusses the costs associated with filing an I-130 petition. Broadly speaking, these will vary, depending on how many relatives the U.S. petitioner wishes to sponsor and whether or not the help of an immigration attorney is enlisted. Additional fees might apply if the foreign-born relative is already in the U.S. and eligible to apply for adjustment of status at the same time.
The filing fee for the I-130 petition is currently set at $535 (early 2023 figure, but it might go up soon). If you are sponsoring more than one family member who qualifies as an "immediate relative," you will have to file a separate I-130 petition and filing fee for each one. An "immediate relative" is the spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen.
If you are a permanent resident sponsoring more than one relative, you are not required to file a separate I-130 petition for each relative who qualifies as a "derivative." A derivative relative would include the children of your foreign national spouse. For more information on who qualifies, see Derivative Immigration Status For Family Members of Immigrating Aliens.
The I-130 petition filing fee is subject to change, as USCIS raises its fees on a fairly regular basis. Always check the USCIS Web page for Form I-130 to confirm the fee before you file, or call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283.
The I-130 is just the beginning of the family immigration process.
If your relative(s) is eligible to file for adjustment of status in the United States and chooses to submit this application to USCIS together with the I-130 petition, there will be an additional filing fee (technically owed by the immigrant, but you might end up paying it, depending on how benevolent a role you decide to take in this process). Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status is the used for adjustments; more information about the government filing fees associated with it can be found on the I-485 page of the USCIS website, but most people had to pay $1,225 as of early 2023. Here again, you might want to hire an attorney; expect to pay several hundred dollars for this.
Not every immigrant who is in the U.S. is eligible to apply for a green card through the adjustment of status procedure, however. In particular, those who last entered the U.S. without inspection will more likely have to use the other application procedure, consular processing, which involves traveling to a U.S. consulate in the applicant's home country. There, the State Department will charge an immigrant visa application fee ($325 in 2023), and USCIS will charge another "immigrant fee" before the person enters the United States ($220 in 2023).
When you first meet with an attorney, you will almost always have to pay a consultation fee. A consultation fee can range anywhere from $75 to several hundred dollars depending on where the attorney is located and the size of the firm the attorney works for.
At this stage of the process, you should always ask the attorney whether the consultation fee will be deducted from the final bill if you decide to retain his or her services.
Most attorneys charge a flat fee for preparing an I-130 petition. An average flat fee for the I-130 approval process is around $800; but again, this is only step one in a lengthy process, and the total fee to see it through will likely be a few thousand dollars. (Also see this survey of what people paid lawyers for family-based green card help.)
An attorney will typically perform the following services for a flat fee:
A flat fee is ordinarily a good choice, particularly if you have a complicated case that requires a lot of documentation.
Some attorneys might charge an hourly rate. This could be a better option if you are sponsoring only one relative, who has a very straightforward case; or if you have already completed the I-130 petition on your own and you simply want the attorney to review it. The downside to being charged hourly is that your fee will be less predictable and, depending on what happens in your case, you could end up spending more money than you would have if you had paid a flat fee.
If, for example, you prepared your own I-130 petition and there are lots of mistakes in it, it is possible the attorney will spend more time fixing your work than had he or she started the petition from scratch.
It is always a good idea to contact several attorneys to ask about fees before you schedule your consultation. No matter what, make sure to select an attorney you feel comfortable with.