When you submit an application for immigration benefits to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you must, in most cases, pay an application fee. However, if you are unable to afford this fee, you may be able to apply for a fee waiver from USCIS. Approval is in no way automatic, however. The USCIS has the discretion to approve your or deny your request. You must demonstrate an inability to pay the fees.
Not all USCIS forms have the provision for a fee waiver. For example, while you can apply for a waiver with an application for a U.S. work permit (I-765), U.S. naturalization (N-400), or a citizenship certificate (N-600), you cannot (with a few exceptions) apply for one in connection with an adjustment of status application (Form I-485).
This has to do with the fact that in order to adjust status (get a green card), you need to prove that you have the financial capacity to avoid 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 have to presume that you are inadmissible (ineligible for a green card) as a public charge.
To find out whether it is possible to apply for a fee waiver in the category under which you are applying, go to the "Fee Waiver Guidance" 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 along with your USCIS form. You have the option of either using USCIS Form I-912 for your fee waiver or creating your own affidavit or sworn statement.
If you prepare your own request, it must include these words “I DECLARE UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY THAT THE FOREGOING IS TRUE AND CORRECT TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE”. You must explain in detail why you are requesting the waiver, laying out your actual household budget and expenses and describing the number of people living in your household.
Be sure to write the words “FEE WAIVER REQUEST” on the envelope containing your USCIS application and on all supporting documents, so that it will be sorted appropriately in the mail room. Otherwise, you may find your application returned to you with a request for the proper fee.
For more information, including an article on how to prepare sworn declarations and affidavits, and how to avoid having your application get lost in the government bureaucracy, see this site's section on 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 the instructions for Form I-912 for further detail on documentation to provide in particular circumstances.
USCIS will review your case and exercise its discretion. If your request is approved, the USCIS will process your form. If it is denied, the USCIS will return your request and form.