Background on U.S. Citizenship
Applying for U.S. citizenship is an important step for many immigrants, as it grants certain rights and benefits not available to permanent residents, including the right to vote in federal elections, protection from deportation, and access to better job opportunities. This article aims to provide a precise and detailed explanation of the costs associated with acquiring U.S. citizenship, helping applicants better understand the financial implications of this life-changing decision.
Importance of Understanding the Costs
Knowing the exact costs involved is crucial for applicants to avoid potential financial hurdles along the way, helping them budget, plan, and ultimately undergo a smoother naturalization process. The application process can have unexpected costs and fees, in addition to the standard filing fees, making it important to be well-prepared and understand the overall financial impact.
2. Basic Filing Fee
Filing Fee for Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization)
The primary cost associated with applying for U.S. citizenship is the filing fee for Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. As of October 2020, the filing fee for Form N-400 is $725, which will increase to $1,170 starting on October 2, 2020. This fee change impacts the cost significantly, and it’s essential for potential applicants to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
Fee Waiver Eligibility and Requirements
Some applicants may be eligible for a fee waiver or fee reduction, which can greatly decrease the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers fee waivers for those who meet certain criteria, including applicants receiving public benefits or experiencing financial hardship. To apply for a fee waiver, applicants must submit Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, with their citizenship application. To qualify for a fee waiver, one must demonstrate a financial need, such as being at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Form N-400 Filing Fee.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Fee Waiver.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.
3. Biometric Services Fee
Purpose of Biometric Services
Biometric services include the collection of an applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and signature for the purpose of conducting background and security checks during the U.S. citizenship application process. These checks ensure that applicants meet eligibility requirements for naturalization, assist in verifying an individual’s identity, and aid in preventing fraud.
Cost for Applicants Under and Above a Certain Age
The biometric services fee typically applies to most Form N-400 applicants between the ages of 14 and 78. As of October 2020, the cost of biometric services is $85. However, applicants who are under the age of 14, or 79 years and older are not required to pay the biometric services fee. It is important to note that the biometric fee is part of the overall application fee, which is currently $725 for eligible applicants.
4. Military Service Members and Veterans
Citizenship Application Benefits for Military Members
Military service members and veterans may be eligible for certain benefits when applying for U.S. citizenship, including expedited processing, overseas application options, and waived fees. The USCIS recognizes the valuable contributions made by those serving or who have served in the United States Armed Forces and has developed policies to help ease the naturalization process for these individuals.
Fee Exemptions and Requirements
Service members and veterans applying for U.S. citizenship may be eligible for a waiver of both the N-400 application fee and the biometric services fee. To request a fee waiver, military applicants must submit Form N-400 without the filing and biometric services fees, while including evidence of military service, such as a photocopy of the front and back of their military identification card. Additionally, service members and veterans must meet all other requirements for naturalization.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). About Form N-400.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Naturalization for Military Members.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Filing Fees.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Citizenship for Military Personnel and Family Members.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Military Help Line.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Naturalization Through Military Service.
5. Attorney Fees and Legal Assistance
Typical Attorney Fees for Naturalization Applications
Attorney fees for naturalization applications can vary greatly, depending on several factors, such as the level of experience, the complexity of the applicant’s case, and the location of the practice. Fees can range from $500 to $2,000 or more. Some attorneys charge a flat fee for the entire process, while others may charge by the hour. It is essential for applicants to discuss fees upfront and obtain a clear understanding of the costs involved.
Free or Low-cost Legal Assistance Options
Applicants looking for assistance with their naturalization applications can explore free or low-cost legal assistance options. Several non-profit organizations and legal clinics provide assistance for those who cannot afford an attorney. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has a list of recognized nonprofit legal service providers, which can be accessed through their website.
Pros and Cons of Utilizing Legal Services
Utilizing legal services can offer significant benefits, such as guidance in completing the application, assistance in the case of any legal issues, and greater confidence in the application process. Additionally, legal services often have a higher success rate and can save applicants time and effort. However, these advantages come at a cost, which may not be feasible for all applicants, especially considering the already significant fees associated with the application for U.S. citizenship.
6. Preparation Courses and Study Materials
Costs of Citizenship Classes and Materials
Enrolling in citizenship classes and purchasing study materials, such as textbooks or online courses, can provide applicants with a more structured, supportive way to prepare for the naturalization process. The cost of citizenship preparation courses varies, ranging from free community-based programs to paid courses costing a few hundred dollars. Study materials, such as books and online resources, can cost between $20 and $100 or more.
Free Resources and Alternatives
There are numerous free resources and alternatives available for applicants seeking to prepare for the naturalization process without enrolling in paid courses or purchasing study materials. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers many free online resources, including the Civics Practice Test and the Naturalization Self Test. Additionally, public libraries and community centers may offer free study materials, in-person or virtual workshops, and other helpful resources.
- Avvo, Inc. (2020). How much does an immigration attorney cost?
- American Bar Association. (2019). Free Legal Help for Immigrants.
- Executive Office for Immigration Review. (2021). List of Pro Bono Legal Service Providers.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Find an English and/or Citizenship Class.
- Amazon. (2021). Citizenship Test Study Guides.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Study Materials.
7. Travel Expenses
Costs Associated with Attending Biometrics Appointments and Interviews
While applying for U.S. citizenship, applicants are required to attend biometrics appointments and interviews at their local USCIS Application Support Center (ASC) or field office. These necessary in-person appointments may require travel and transportation expenses, depending on the applicant’s distance from the nearest center. Travel costs may include gas, parking, public transportation fees, or even hotel stays, depending on the location of the appointment and the individual’s personal circumstances.
Tips to Minimize Travel Expenses
To minimize travel expenses, consider the following tips:
- Check for the nearest USCIS Application Support Center or field office to save time and fuel costs.
- Utilize public transportation or carpooling options, if available and appropriate.
- Schedule appointments at off-peak times or request appointments at a location closest to your residence, when possible.
- Look for reduced or free parking options near your appointment location, or consider parking in a less expensive area and walking or using public transportation to reach the center.
- If overnight accommodations are necessary, search early for budget-friendly hotel options or stay with friends or family in the area.
8. Lost Wages and Time Off Work
Potential for Loss of Income Due to Application-Related Absences
Applicants may experience a loss of income due to taking time off work to attend biometrics appointments, interviews, or citizenship ceremonies. Time spent away from work to handle application-related matters may result in lost wages or using paid time off if available. It is essential to account for potential income loss when considering the overall cost of applying for U.S. citizenship.
Considerations for Scheduling Appointments
When scheduling appointments, keep the following considerations in mind to minimize potential losses in income:
- Request appointment times during non-working hours or days off, if possible.
- Discuss your citizenship application with your employer to explore possible work schedule flexibility, arrange for remote work, or use paid time off without impacting your job.
- When possible, combine multiple appointments in a single day to reduce time off required.
- Communicate with USCIS about any unavoidable scheduling conflicts, as they may be able to reschedule appointments to better fit your needs.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Biometrics (Fingerprints).
- American Immigration Council. (2018). The Cost of an Immigration Crackdown.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). USCIS Field Offices.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2020). Contact USCIS.
9. Potential Additional Costs
Medical Examinations and Vaccinations
While not required for citizenship applications, medical examinations and vaccinations may be necessary for some immigrants who are seeking to adjust their status from a non-immigrant visa holder to a permanent resident1. Applicants should check their vaccination records to ensure they are up to date with the required immunizations, as this may impact the cost of their naturalization process. Medical examinations can range from $100 to $300 or more, depending on the physician and geographic location.
Document Translation and Notarization Fees
Applicants must provide certified translations of any non-English documents submitted with their application, such as birth certificates or marriage licenses. Translation costs can vary widely, depending on the document type and language. Notarization fees may also apply to some documents and typically range from $5 to $15 per signature.
Possible Costs of Reapplication after a Denial
If an applicant’s initial application is denied, they may have the option to appeal the decision or reapply. Both options can come with additional costs, including new filing and biometric service fees, attorney fees, and potential travel expenses for additional biometric appointments or interviews.
10. Financial Assistance and Fee Waivers
Eligibility Criteria for Financial Assistance and Fee Waivers
As mentioned earlier in section 2, some applicants may be eligible for fee waivers or fee reductions, depending on their financial situation. To qualify, applicants must demonstrate financial need, such as being at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Application Process for Fee Waivers
To request a fee waiver, applicants must submit a completed Form I-912 (Request for Fee Waiver) alongside their citizenship application, providing evidence of their financial need. Make sure to follow the USCIS guidelines and submit all necessary documentation for a successful fee waiver application.
The Overall Financial Impact of Applying for U.S. Citizenship
The total cost of applying for U.S. citizenship varies based on individual circumstances, including filing and biometric fees, legal assistance, preparation materials, travel expenses, and potential additional costs. Understanding these costs can help applicants make informed decisions and plan accordingly.
Tips for Minimizing Costs and Maximizing Success
Applicants can minimize costs by seeking out free or low-cost preparation resources, attending biometrics and interview appointments punctually, and staying up to date on vaccinations. Carefully following application guidelines and submitting all required documentation can increase the chances of a successful application and help avoid the costs associated with reapplication or appeals.