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All About Fee Waivers: What is a Fee Waiver, Who is eligible, and more

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Many of our clients are unaware that they may be eligible to receive a fee waiver upon demonstration of a clear financial need. Although USCIS receives much of its funding from the application and petition fees they charge to applicants, the service understands that applications can be very costly for applicants, and that some applicants will not be able to pay the necessary filing fees. Although not all applications and petitions are eligible to receive a fee waiver there are many petitions that qualify.

Who may apply for a fee waiver?

A fee waiver request may be submitted by persons who are unable to pay the required filing fees or biometric service fee(s) for any application or petition that is eligible to receive a fee waiver. In order to receive a fee waiver, applicants must demonstrate that they are unable to pay the filing fees by providing documented evidence of that need with the fee waiver request Form I-912. A fee waiver request, Form I-912, must be filed with all applications and petitions for which you are requesting a fee waiver.

You can request a fee waiver if:

  1. The form you are filing is eligible for a fee waiver (refer to list below) and
  2. You can provide documentation showing that you qualify based upon at least one of the following criteria:
  • You, your spouse, or the head of household living with you, are currently receiving a ‘means-tested benefit.’
  • Your household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you file.

You can verify whether your income is below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines by calculating your household size and household income, and reviewing the I-912P 2016 Federal Poverty Guidelines.

For example, if you are living in the state of California and you have a household size consisting of three people (you, your husband, and your child) and your total income is at or below $30, 240 you may file a fee waiver request by providing evidence that your income falls below the federal poverty guideline based on your household size and place of residence.

  • You are currently experiencing financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee, including unexpected medical bills, emergencies, or other hardship.

Note: You are only required to file one Form I-912 for all family-related applications or petitions you would like to qualify for a ‘fee waiver’ at the same time.

Applying on the basis of a means-tested benefit:

A means-tested benefit is a public benefit that is provided by a federal, state, or locally funded agency on the basis of your income and resources. If you have received a benefit from any of these entities that was granted based on your income, that benefit is considered a means-tested benefit and is generally accepted by USCIS.  Examples of means-tested benefit programs include Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Programs that are not considered means-tested include Medicare, receiving unemployment benefits, social security benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance (RSDI), and student financial aid.

Using means-tested benefits of family members

If your spouse is seeking a fee waiver request and you are currently receiving a means-tested benefit, your spouse may use your means-tested benefit to qualify for a fee waiver, so long as you and your spouse are living together and not legally separated. If you are receiving a means-tested benefit and you are seeking a fee waiver request for a child under 21 years of age, your child may use your means-tested benefit to qualify. If you are seeking a fee waiver request for your child, you must provide evidence of the parent-child relationship including a copy of the child’s birth certificate. Generally, a parent cannot use their child’s means-tested benefit to qualify for a fee waiver, however fee waiver requests are adjudicated on a discretionary basis.

How do I prove I am receiving a means-tested benefit?

In order to demonstrate that you are currently receiving a means-tested benefit you must provide evidence in the form of a letter, notice, or other official document containing all of the following:

  • Your name;
  • The name of the agency granting the public benefit;
  • The type of benefit; and
  • An indication that you are currently receiving the benefit (date granted, expiration date, date of renewal, etc.).

Providing a copy of your benefit card itself is not acceptable evidence proving that you are currently receiving a means-tested benefit. If you are receiving a means-tested benefit that was not included in the list above, provide as much information as possible about the benefit including a brochure, website of the agency granting the benefit, etc. If you are filing on behalf of a child, provide documentation of the means-tested benefit the child is receiving.

Applying on the basis of Household Income at or below 150% of Federal Poverty Guidelines

In order to apply for a fee waiver request based on the fact that your household income is at or below 150% of Federal Poverty Guidelines, you must provide the head of household’s income on the fee waiver request. In addition, you must provide documented evidence proving that your income is either at or below 150% of Federal Poverty Guidelines based on your household and place of residence.

You may provide the following documents in support of your low income:

  • Federal Income Tax Returns for latest tax year;
  • W2s for the latest tax year;
  • Bank Statements for last 6 months;
  • Pay Stubs;
  • Evidence you are receiving a means-tested benefit;
  • Income explanation letter; and
  • Any other documents that can demonstrate that your income is at or below the federal poverty line.

USCIS will consider homelessness when reviewing the basis of a fee waiver request. In this case, the applicant should provide a dated letter from the homeless shelter where they are receiving services and signed by a shelter employee. If you are homeless and you do not reside in a shelter you must include an affidavit from a member of good standing in your community who can attest to your claims.

Applying on the basis of unexpected financial hardship

If you are applying on the basis of an unexpected financial hardship such as a medical emergency or other hardship you must:

  • Provide a detailed affidavit explaining why you have a financial hardship and provide evidence in support of your hardship. If you are unable to provide evidence of the financial hardship, you must explain why you cannot provide any evidence. If you have a close friend, relative, neighbor, or witness who is familiar with your situation they should also provide in affidavit support your claims. Any evidence you provide must contain your name, date, and any relevant information (your address, names of other family members, etc.);
  • If you cannot provide evidence due to your involvement in a natural disaster, fire, robbery, or other means, include a detailed explanation in your affidavit. You should make a good faith effort to include as much evidence as possible such as a copy of a police report, insurance claim or other report to support your claim.

You may file Form I-912 to request a fee waiver for any of the following benefit requests or services:

*Bold petitions are most commonly filed petitions

  1. Biometric services fee, except for the biometric services fee required for a provisional unlawful presence waiver application (Form I-601A);
  2. Form EOIR-29, Notice of Appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals from a Decision of an Immigration Officer;
  3. Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card;
  4. Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, but only if you are an applicant for E-2 CNMI investor nonimmigrant status under 8 CFR 214.2(e)(23);
  5. Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, but only if you are applying for humanitarian parole;
  6. Form I-191, Application for Advance Permission to Return to Unrelinquished Domicile;
  7. Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant, but only if you are an applicant who is exempt from the public charge grounds of inadmissibility;
  8. Form I-193, Application for Waiver for Passport and/or Visa, but only if you are an applicant who is exempt from the public charge grounds of inadmissibility;
  9. Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, but only if your underlying application was fee exempt, the filing fee was waived, or it was eligible for a fee waiver;
  10. Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. A fee waiver is only available if you are applying for lawful permanent resident status based on: A. Special Immigrant Status based on an approved Form I-360 as an Afghan or Iraqi Interpreter, or Afghan or Iraqi National employed by or on behalf of the U.S. Government; B. An adjustment provision that is exempt from the public charge grounds of inadmissibility of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 212(a)(4), such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, continuous residence in the United States since before January 1, 1972, (“Registry”), Asylum Status, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or similar provisions; Form I-912 Instructions 04/25/16 Y Page 2 of 11
  11. Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, but only if you are an applicant with any benefit request as specified by INA section 245(l)(7) or an applicant for E-2 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) investor nonimmigrant status under 8 CFR 214.2(e)(23);
  12. Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, but only if you are an applicant who is exempt from the public charge grounds of inadmissibility of INA section 212(a)(4);
  13. Form I-694, Notice of Appeal of Decision Under Sections 245A or 210 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, if your underlying application or petition was fee exempt, the filing fee was waived, or was eligible for a fee waiver;
  14. Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence;
  15. Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, unless you are filing under category (c)(33), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA);
  16. Form I-817, Application for Family Unity Benefits;
  17. Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status;
  18. Form I-881, Application for Suspension of Deportation or Special Rule Cancellation of Removal;
  19. Form N-300, Application to File Declaration of Intention;
  20. Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings;
  21. Form N-400, Application for Naturalization;
  22. Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes;
  23. Form N-565, Application for Replacement of Naturalization/Citizenship Document;
  24. Form N-600, Application for Certification of Citizenship; and
  25. Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate under Section 322. You may also apply for a fee waiver for ANY application or petition that is related to status as a: 1. Battered spouses of A, G, E-3, or H nonimmigrants (such as Forms I-485, I-601 and I-212);
  26. Battered spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen under INA section 240A(b)(2);
  27. T nonimmigrant (such as Forms I-192, I-485, and I-601);
  28. Temporary Protected Status (such as Forms I-131, I-821 and I-601);
  29. U nonimmigrant (such as Forms I-192, I-485, and I-929); or
  30. VAWA self–petitioner (such as Forms I-485, I-601 and I-212).

*There are generally no fee waivers for DACA although few exemptions are made. For information on DACA exemptions click here.