Waivers of Filing Fees or Biometric Services Fees For Those Unable to Pay
The application for U.S. citizenship, known as Form N-400, is among the immigration forms for which an applicant can request a fee waiver. The fee waiver application consists of Form I-912, which you will need to submit to USCIS together with your application and documents supporting your need for the waiver. Some foreign nationals find it necessary to ask for a waiver because filing Form N-400 costs several hundred dollars, and they may not have that amount of cash available at the time. (Read more here about the cost of applying for citizenship.)
Eligibility for a Fee Waiver
You likely can receive a fee waiver if you can show that you fall within one of three groups. First, you may be eligible for a fee waiver if a member of your household or you are receiving a government benefit because of your low income or assets. This is known as a means-tested benefit. Examples of means-tested benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income.
Another way to qualify for a waiver involves showing that your household income does not exceed 150 percent of the current federal poverty guidelines when you ask for the waiver, based on your household size. You will need to multiply the amounts in the federal poverty guidelines by 1.5. Then, you will need to calculate your household size by identifying everyone who depends on your income or the income of your spouse or head of household. Parents and unmarried children under 21 who live with you will count as part of your household, as well as children who are full-time students and live with you when they are on vacation. Children with special needs due to disabilities also likely are part of your household. Any other people listed as dependents of your spouse, your head of household, or you on tax returns likely will qualify as part of your household.
More generally, you can get a waiver if you can show that you are dealing with a serious financial hardship that prevents you from paying the application fee. A financial hardship may arise from a medical emergency, for example, or perhaps job loss or an eviction.
Impact of a Fee Waiver Request on Eligibility for Naturalization
Before you ask for a waiver, you should be aware that your request might in some cases adversely affect your application for citizenship. One of the eligibility requirements involves showing that you have good moral character. While poverty does not show a lack of moral character, USCIS might examine the record of an applicant who is receiving public benefits to determine whether they are receiving any of those benefits unlawfully. This would be considered fraud, which would suggest that they lack the necessary moral character. Meanwhile, USCIS might find that a foreign national who has filed for bankruptcy or who has credit judgments against them has exploited the U.S. economic system. This might show that they do not have good moral character, especially if they are failing to pay off their debts.
Some people who are facing financial difficulties fail to keep up with child support obligations. A failure to pay child support, regardless of the reason, can result in a finding that an applicant lacks the necessary moral character.
Even if your waiver request does not affect the merits of your application, you should know that it may lengthen the processing time. This is because USCIS will need to review the fee waiver request separately, before it reviews the overall application. If USCIS denies the fee waiver request, it will not review the application until the foreign national has paid the filing fee. It will return the application materials to the foreign national and refrain from entering their receipt in its records. If you have a strong reason for becoming a U.S. citizen as soon as possible, you may want to find a way to pay the fee rather than risking a delay.