Making the path toward US citizenship more affordable

Congratulations! You’ve finally obtained legal permanent residence status. This means you’re successfully moving forward with your goal of becoming a naturalized US citizen. 

Guess what? You’re also at the last step in the often complex immigration process. You’ve gone through countless interviews and paid some hefty filing fees. Unfortunately, there’s another fee to pay and it’s not exactly cheap. 

Did you know you may be eligible for reduced N-400 fees? If you’re eligible, it can make this last form less of a financial burden. Depending on your unique financial situation, you may even be able to waive the entire filing fee.

What is form N-400?

If you’re not sure what form N-400 is or why you need to fill it out, it’s the last form you submit to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service USCIS). 

The form indicates you’re ready to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. This means you can take advantage of all of the perks that come with being a citizen. You can legally vote in city, county, state, and federal elections, and sign up for social security, for example.

While this is an exciting time, there can be a downside. Form N-400 comes with a hefty fee. The US government is currently charging a $760 filing fee. Yes, you must submit the fee with your application. Without the fee, you’re application for naturalization isn’t going to be processed. After going through all of the other necessary steps, you don’t want a large fee to stand in your way of becoming a US citizen.

Something to remember; if you can afford the filing fee but make a mistake on the form. The form will be rejected and you’ll need to repay the filing fee when you resubmit the paperwork. So, take your time and make sure every required field is filled out properly.

What happens if you simply can’t afford to pay the large filing fee? Does this mean your journey to becoming a naturalized citizen comes to a screeching halt? The answer, hopefully, is no. You may be eligible for either a reduced or waived fee. Before you get too excited, there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet.

How to reduce form N-400 fees

The US government realizes that not everyone may be able to pay the filing fee associated with Form N-400. If you meet specific financial criteria, you may be able to have the fee reduced to a more affordable amount.

You’ll need to calculate your family’s income—and yes, this means the income of everyone living in the household and bringing home a paycheck. Don’t even think about leaving some of your claimed income out of your calculations. This can result in an automatic denial of your naturalization application and you may even need to start the citizenship process all over again.

Under the federal government’s Poverty Guidelines, you may be eligible for a reduced filing fee. To determine your eligibility you need to request, complete, and return Form 1-942. Don’t worry, the form is pretty simple to fill out and you only need to meet the financial requirements to qualify for a reduced fee. 

The requirements are your annual household income can’t be more the 400% or 150% below the federal government’s poverty guidelines. To stay current with changing inflation rates, the guidelines are updated annually, which helps ensure those who are on a fixed income almost always meet the requirements. You submit your reduced fee form with your naturalization documents.

How to waive form N-400 fees

What should you do if your income is 151% or more below the federal poverty guidelines? This almost certainly means you aren’t going to be able to afford the current $760 filing fee.

Thankfully, you have an option; you can request Form 1-912. This is a fee waiver request for Form N-400. As mentioned earlier, your total annual income for the year you’re filing for naturalization can’t be above 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. If your income is above, you’re probably not eligible for waived fees. However, you may be able to have the fees significantly reduced.

The fee waiver form comes with detailed instructions, and don’t deviate from the instructions. If you do, your request for a fee waiver is probably going to be denied. You also need to supply supporting documentation with the form. This can include detailed financial statements like bank statements and paycheck stubs. 

If you’re not sure which documents to include, an immigration lawyer can walk you through the steps. On top of this, you’ll also need to send in Form I-192 with Form I-400.

Factors that affect fee waiver approval

Approval for a reduced fee is almost always granted if you meet the federal poverty guidelines. Since this is based solely on your annual household income, there are rarely any problems. Having a fee waived is a little different. USCIS will look at a few factors before deciding to waive your Form I-400 fee.

Are you or a family member receiving benefits? These are benefits that determine eligibility based on income; food stamp programs are an example. If you or a family member in your household qualifies for benefits like a supplement food program, there’s a good chance you can have the filing fee waived. The same also applies if your total annual household income is at or below 150% of the poverty guidelines.

The USCIS may also consider an unexpected financial hardship as a qualifying factor. For example, you have sudden medical bills or have recently been laid off and are receiving unemployment benefits. Remember, every situation is unique so don’t rely on someone else’s experience, as they may have their fees waived while yours are only reduced.

Becoming a naturalized US citizen can be affordable

The cost of becoming a US citizen through naturalization can really add up because almost every form you submit comes with a fee. For many people trying to apply, these expenses can put citizenship out of reach. 

However, you might not have to pay the full amount every time. It’s possible to get the filing fees for Form N-400 reduced or even waived, making the dream of citizenship more affordable and within reach for more applicants.