Last updated on May 15th, 2019
If you’re a family member of either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, you may be eligible to receive a green card based solely on this relationship.
Gaining permanent residency status is more commonly referred to as “getting a green card.” This status allows you to reside lawfully in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Once you become a permanent resident, you’ll also be entitled to a wide breadth of new rights and protections.
However, like every immigration and legal process, there are costs and expenses associated with obtaining a family-based green card. Generally, your expenses will come from various filing fees, legal fees, and costs for supporting documentation.
This article will break down the various costs, and give you an overview of how much you should expect to spend in order to get your family-based green card. The total costs will vary based on the details of your situation, but this article should give you a good ballpark estimate for how much your total case will cost.
Do I Actually Need a Family-Based Green Card?
Before discussing the cost of a family-based green card, you should make sure that filing for a green card is actually the best choice for your situation. The requirements for family-based green cards are very specific. If you fall anywhere outside these requirements, applying will only waste your money.
The basic requirements are listed below, however, you should always speak with an attorney before deciding whether or not to file for a green card.
Immigration cases can vary widely due to the many recent changes in the process, so it’s always recommended that you speak with a lawyer before making any final decisions.
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
Individuals who apply for green cards as the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens must meet certain stringent relationship requirements. Generally, this means that, in order to petition under this preference, you must be either the spouse, unmarried child (under the age of 21), or parent of a U.S. citizen.
Having such a close family relationship with a citizen qualifies you as an “immediate relative,” and makes you immediately eligible for a green card.
Non-immediate Relatives and Family of Permanent Residents
Alternatively, if you don’t qualify as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you may still apply for the second type of family-based green card: the Family Preference Category. You can qualify for this category if you’re an unmarried child (over the age of 21), the married child (of any age), or the sibling of a U.S. citizen.
If you’re basing your green card application on being the family member of a U.S. permanent resident, you’ll instead fall under an even lower preference level, known as the Family 2nd Preference Category.
You may qualify for this category if you meet certain similar criteria, and are either the spouse or unmarried child (of any age) of a U.S. permanent resident. Because there’s only a limited number of available slots in this preference category, you’ll likely have to wait a bit longer for your green card. However, it’s still worth the wait.
Applying for, and obtaining, a family-based green card is a multi-step process that can span many months. Your individual situation will also influence whether you apply to adjust status from within the U.S. or if you instead must apply for an Immigrant Visa at your local consulate.
At each stage of the process, you’ll need to file paperwork with the government. In order to file this paperwork, you’ll need to pay filing fees. For this reason, calculating these non-negotiable fees gives you a great baseline expectation of what you can expect to pay.
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
The Petition for Alien Relative is the first step in the family-based green card application process. Your relative (called a “sponsor”) will fill out this form. The questions that this petition asks are mainly aimed at determining whether a valid family relationship exists between you and the sponsor.
For example, are you an immediate relative or is your connection slightly more distant (as described above)? This form essentially establishes your relationship with the U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
There is a $535 filing fee for this form.
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
The Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status allows the government to compile all the information about you that it needs in order to decide whether to allow you to adjust your status to that of a permanent resident of the United States.
The filing fee for this form will vary based on who you are and your circumstances.
If you’re like most applicants, and are between the ages of 14 and 78, the total amount for this form will be $1,225. It should be noted that $85 of this amount goes towards the biometric fee, which covers the expenses associated with taking your fingerprints for security and crime prevention purposes.
Alternatively, if you’re 79 years of age or older, USCIS will waive this biometric fee. This lowers the total cost to $1,140. For children under the age of 14, who are submitting Form I-485 along with the applicant of at least one of their parents, the filing fee is $750.
DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application
Similar to how form I-485 is used by immigrants who are already in the U.S., form DS-260 is used by immigrants who are living outside the country when their I-130 is approved.
Once you have I-130 approval, you can fill out DS-260 and go through consular processing in your come country. After doing so, you may enter the U.S. at your earliest convenience, but still need to apply for the I-485 once you’ve settled.
Form DS-260 is filled out entirely online through the U.S. Department of State, Consular Electronic Application Center. Currently, the filing fee for form DS-260 is $325.
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
Before the United States will allow you into the country to live permanently, the government will want to make sure that will have adequate financial support, and that you will not have to depend on government assistance in order to survive.
The government assures itself of your financial situation by having your sponsor fill out Form I-864, which is the Affidavit of Support. A family member must fill out this form, in which he or she promises to support you financially should you receive a green card and permanent residency.
This form is filed in conjunction with the I-485 if you’re already in the country, or with the DS-260 if you’re applying through consular processing.
There is currently no filing fee for this form if the sponsored immigrant files it with USCIS as part of an adjustment of status application. However, the Department of State does charge a fee if you are going through the consular process. This fee is currently $120, and must be paid when Form I-864 is filed.
In addition to this affidavit, you’ll need to send in several supporting documents which support your claims. These supporting documents may require extra fees and expenses, which can vary depending on what USCIS specifically requires for your case.
Common additional evidence you’ll need to file includes tax returns, translations of certain documents, medical exams (Form I-693, the Medical Exam Form), proof of employment, and other similar forms.
Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
If you’re already living in the country, and are in the process of adjusting your status, you may also want to fill out and submit Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization.
This form is an optional step in the family-based green card process, though it’s usually encouraged for long-time residents. Filling out this form puts you on track to receiving a work permit before you receive your green card. This allows you to work legally in the U.S., and gives you certain benefits such as the ability to apply for a driver’s license.
There is no filing fee for this document, provided you base it on a pending green card application.
You may find it extremely helpful to enlist the help of a lawyer who specializes in the area of immigration law. While this step isn’t required, and it is possible to go through the process on your own, it’s still highly recommended that you at least speak with an attorney before striking out by yourself.
It’s a rare occurrence that everything goes exactly according to plan, so having an attorney supporting can be an invaluable resource. It is often wise (and cheaper) to work with a lawyer from the outset of the green card application process, rather than waiting to bring a lawyer on board once something’s gone wrong.
What you can expect to pay for legal assistance with your family-based green card will vary based on the attorney and the market in which he or she practices. Some attorneys will offer a flat fee for doing the green card application, while others offer payment plans and other workarounds which can help reduce costs.
You should expect to pay around $5,000 – $7,500 total to get your family-based green card, including all the associated governmental fees, legal fees, and other costs such as the medical exam and document preparation. This total cost may be higher or lower depending on your particular situation, the details of your case, and how you choose to proceed.