Requesting a fee waiver

US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty Marco F.G. Tomakin - The Freeman

Majority of the operations of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is funded largely by application and petition fees submitted to it. So anytime you file an application for naturalization, or you are petitioning your spouse, children, parents, or fiancé, or you have an employer filing a work visa petition, the fees you pay go towards running the agency. Since the budget of USCIS is dependent on this stream of revenue from application fees, it also periodically evaluates its schedule of fees. However, as these fees continue to rise, filing an immigration benefit has become prohibitive. I have clients tell me that they are postponing their submissions because they cannot afford the filing fees. In the long run, the longer you delay filing your applications/petitions, you lose valuable time and it does not accrue to your own benefit.

USCIS recognizes that there are filers who cannot pay the filing fees. Thus, the agency offers a fee waiver process for certain forms and benefit types. It is worth stressing that this is not an automatic benefit. In order for the USCIS to approve your application not to pay the filing fees, you must demonstrate your inability to pay. There is a process you have to follow and requirements to comply.

First, you need to file Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver which you can download at the USCIS website. A letter requesting for a fee waiver is also sufficient. You must satisfy your eligibility by showing that you, your spouse, or the head of household living with you, are currently receiving a means-tested benefit. A means-tested benefit is a public benefit where the agency, whether federal, state or local, granting the benefit considers your income and resources. Examples of means-tested benefits are Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Another way to qualify is if your household income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you file. The Federal Poverty Guidelines are updated every year and it can also be downloaded at the USCIS website. Third way to qualify for a fee waiver is if you are currently experiencing financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee, including unexpected medical bills or emergencies.

You may check off one or more of these three eligibility requirements. It is vitally important that you must have supporting documents that evidence your chosen eligibility. If you are using the means tested benefit option, you must have statements from the office issuing the assistance to you or your household member. You must provide your payslips, tax returns, and other proof of income to show that you are at or below the income requirements under the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If you are claiming financial hardship, you must show your household size, family income, assets, and list your expenses that would show your financial difficulties. If you experienced any medical emergency or were a victim of a disaster that contributed to your financial woes, you must have affidavits from a person who has personal knowledge of your situation, police reports, medical certificates, or other forms of credible evidence.

So do not allow your inability to pay the filing fee deters you from submitting that application or petition. Send in the request for a fee waiver with all your supporting documents. The worst that could happen is that USCIS denies your request but at least you tried.

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