When you submit an application for immigration benefits to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you must, in most cases, pay a non-refundable application fee. However, if you are unable to afford this fee, you might be able to apply for a fee waiver from USCIS. (See 8 C.F.R. § 103.7(c)(3).)
Approval is in no way automatic, however. USCIS has the discretion to approve or deny a fee waiver request. You must demonstrate an inability to afford paying the fees, but without also disqualifying yourself from the benefit you seek.
Not all USCIS forms make any provision for a fee waiver. Among the most popular ones that do allow for fee waiver applications are:
You cannot (with a few exceptions) apply for a fee waiver in connection with a family- or employment-based adjustment of status application (Form I-485) for a green card. This has to do with the fact that in order to adjust status, you ordinarily need to prove that you have the financial capacity to avoid your becoming a public charge (receive need-based government assistance). If you were to declare to the immigration authorities that you have so little money that you can't pay the application fees, they would presume that you are inadmissible (ineligible for a green card) as a public charge.
As mentioned, there are notable exceptions to who is subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility when applying to adjust status. The main ones are for refugee and asylees, T and U visa holders, special immigrant juveniles (SIJS),
VAWA self-petitioners, and people applying based on the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), the Haitian Refugee Fairness Act (HRIFA), or the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (LRIF)3
To find out whether it's possible to apply for a fee waiver in the category under which you are applying, go to the I-912, Request for Fee Waiver page of the USCIS website. You will need to figure out in advance the number of the USCIS form that you will be using to apply for benefits (such as an N-400 or I-765), since USCIS tells you who is fee-waiver eligible based on these form numbers.
You must submit your waiver request on USCIS Form I-912 along with your USCIS application form.
Also include relevant documents that support claims you made within the fee waiver request, such as proof that you are a full-time student or have been claimed by your parents as a dependent on their tax return. (See further discussion of documentation below.)
It's wise to write the words "FEE WAIVER REQUEST" on the envelope containing your USCIS application, so that it will be sorted appropriately in the mail room. Otherwise, you might find your application returned to you with a request for the proper fee.
For more information on dealing with these various paperwork requirements, see Immigration Applications, Petitions, & Processes.
You must demonstrate to USCIS that your circumstances make you unable to pay the fee. The most convincing circumstances include:
No matter which of these bases you rely on in your fee waiver request, you must submit documents backing up your claim, such as:
See USCIS's instructions for Form I-912 for further detail on documentation to provide in particular circumstances.
USCIS will review your case and exercise its discretion. That means it doesn't have to say yes, even if you provide lots of proof. If your request for a fee waiver is approved, USCIS will process your main application. If it is denied, USCIS will return your request and application materials, and you'll have to resubmit the entire thing with full payment.