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Becoming a U.S. citizen is an arduous and expensive process. Applicants must travel, pay filing fees, hire legal assistance, and more to assure that their application is correct and will be approved.
The Citizenship Approval Process
The pathway to US citizenship can be divided into two phases. To obtain citizenship, first, the applicant must earn lawful permanent resident status. Second, the applicant may apply for citizenship and prove that he or she meets the requirements. Both phases cost a significant amount of money.
Pathways to Permanent Status
Permanent status, or a “green card,” means that the applicant may live and work permanently in the United States. This comes with various perks like no loss of status, travel benefits and easy to rent a car and other stuffs. The green card holder is protected by federal and state laws and the Constitution. Green card holders have nearly all the same rights, privileges, and obligations as citizens except that they may be removed from the US if they break the law and are unable to vote.
Applicants may apply for permanent status in the following ways: family, employment, special immigrant, refugee or asylee, victims of abuse, the registry, human trafficking, and crime victims, and a few other categories. Each of these categories has filing fees and legal costs to secure the status. For example, the cost to receive a green card through the family category can cost between $1,200 for an applicant living outside the United States and $1,760 for applicants living in the U.S.
The costs include $535.00 for the I-130 form and $1,140 for the I-485 form (for applicants living in the U.S.). Applicants also must pay an $85.00 fee for biometric scans and $120.00 for form I-864 (financial support form). Applicants may also have to pay a $325.00 processing fee to the State Department and a $220.00 fee to the USCIS. Finally, applicants also need to pay for a medical examination which can vary depending on the provider.
These are “hard” costs, meaning that most applicants will have to pay some or all of these costs. Numerous “soft” costs may be included. For example, applicants might also have to pay translation fees if they aren’t proficient in English. Applicants will have to pay for certified translations for their necessary documents – such as birth certificates. Applicants may also have to pay for vaccinations, document copies, equivalency evaluations for foreign degrees, photography costs, postage and shipping, and travel expenses. Altogether, these costs could increase the application costs to several thousand dollars for a green card.
Pathway to Citizenship
The applicant may file for citizenship if he or she meets the following conditions:
First, applicants must have had their green card for at least five years or three years if they are an immigrant spouse of a U.S. citizen. The applicant must renew his or her green card (and pay the fees) if it will expire within six months of applying for citizenship or if the card is expired. Often, the applicant will have to pay for the biometric fee and may need to sit for another interview. If required to sit for an interview, the applicant may be required to travel to their home country because some interviews are conducted in their home country.
Second, the applicant must demonstrate good moral character, have a basic grasp of English, and are over 18 years old. Third, the applicant must complete the Form N-400 application, sit for and pass the Naturalization Test, demonstrating a basic understanding of American civics. Finally, the applicant takes the oath of allegiance to the United States. The United States allows applicants to retain the citizenship of their home countries.
Once the green card holder establishes that they are eligible, he or she may apply for citizenship status. If the applicant is applying for multiple people, he or she will need to pay the fees for each applicant. Furthermore, the payment method must be the same for every applicant and fee (even if the fees are different). For example, if an applicant pays a filing fee by money order, he or she can’t pay the biometric fee by personal check.
The filing fee is $640.00 per applicant and an $85.00 biometric fee for a total of $725.00. Applicants may apply for a waiver to reduce the fee. The waiver can reduce the fee by $405.00 or $320.00, depending on the circumstances.
Penalty for Being Poor
The total costs of receiving citizenship vary greatly from applicant to applicant. The hard costs do not change much from year to year. However, the soft costs, such as vaccinations and travel, can significantly increase depending on the applicant’s country of origin. For example, applicants from countries with similar vaccination schedules as the U.S., such as Europe or Canada, pay less in medical costs and travel expenses. However, applicants from other countries, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa, may need to pay increased costs for certified translation of documents, vaccinations, and travel because flights to and from these countries are generally more expensive than travel to Europe.
Finally, these cost estimates don’t include the cost of legal assistance. The U.S. immigration process is opaque and often requires counsel to shepherd the applicant to permanent status and citizenship. The costs dramatically increase if the applicant is subject to criminal penalties. The applicant will have to retain legal counsel to defend him or her in the criminal process and during immigration removal proceedings. Applicants seeking permanent status as an asylee or refugee will also need legal assistance during the immigration hearing. These applicants often need to submit evidence and perhaps even testimony demonstrating “genuine fear.” The immigration system is designed to reward applicants of means and punish those without.
Totaling the Costs
The total cost to receive U.S. citizenship is years of patience, multiple trips, vaccinations, translations, civics and English classes, and filing and government fees. The easiest costs are the government fees. The difficult costs are those that applicants do not anticipate. Some applicants may be severed from their country of origin – some countries don’t allow dual citizenship. Other applicants might lose connection to their friends and family if they fled to the U.S. as refugees. The cost of U.S. citizenship is high. If you are a student seeking to study in the United States, you can probably get a scholarship from a organization.