The amount that it costs to immigrate to the United States through family-based or employment-based immigration depends on several factors. The most crucial factor is whether petitioning for a relative or employee and then adjusting status to lawful permanent residence (obtaining a Green Card) in the US requires an immigrant visa number.
For example, foreign nationals who petition for a US citizen spouse may have to wait years overseas until an immigrant visa number becomes available. If the visa number becomes available within a year or two, it is typically far less expensive to adjust status within the United States than to wait overseas.
The second factor determining the cost to immigrate is whether you will take a risk by entering on a tourist visa and then applying for an immigrant visa number (adjusting status) once in the United States.
The third factor that determines the cost is the choice of nationality. For example, nationals from countries with large backlogs (not enough visa numbers to meet demand) may have to wait several years to obtain an immigrant visa. These are sometimes called “third-country national” spouses and employees. Persons from these third countries will likely need to adjust their status in the United States through a risky tourist visa or visitor visa strategy.
Typically, persons going through consular processing should budget $3,000 to $4,000 for a spouse and $10,000 to $12,500 for an employee. Those adjusting status in the United States will need to budget as much as thousands of dollars more when bringing spouses and children with them on temporary visas.
What are the requirements for immigration to the United States
There are two main requirements for immigration to the United States: one is called the “immediate relative” petition process, and the other is through a US family or employment-based visa. The immediate relative petition process requires that you have certain relationships with a United States citizen, legal permanent resident (green card holder), or an authorized official.
These close relationships include being married to a US citizen, being parents or children of US citizens, being brothers/sisters of US citizens over 21 years old, or being orphans adopted by a US citizen at any age if from any country outside Canada and Mexico (Central America also qualifies). Under some circumstances, you may also be eligible to be classified as an immediate relative under the family second preference category, but this is not a typical scenario. Suppose you do not fit into one of these categories but are still related to someone in the United States and want to immigrate permanently. In that case, you may also qualify if that person nominated or sponsored your immigration petition using Form I-130 (the form required to initiate the process).
The sponsorship or nomination can be done either after the US citizen or permanent resident relative petitions through official procedures with the US government and prior approval from USCIS or at any time throughout the process of working towards becoming a US citizen with a Green Card when applying for adjustment of status. Permanent residents who want to help their relatives immigrate must file Form I-130 within their first year of holding the permanent residence status.
The second general category is called “family/employment preference. It allows you to immigrate if you have an employer in the United States who will sponsor your visa application or a US family member petitions for you because they are already either a US citizen or permanent resident (green card holder).
Most people must qualify under one of these categories to apply for immigration benefits from USCIS. There is no direct path to citizenship through these categories; however, immigrants do not need a Green Card for visas issued by consulates abroad. For example, a temporary visitor’s visa can allow someone to stay in the US temporarily, work there while on that visa, and then apply for a Green Card once in the US, all without ever obtaining a Green Card.
It should note that people who adjust their status do not need to have permission from an employer or family member to live and work in the United States while they wait because of their adjustment. A person qualified under the “immediate relative” category does need to obtain sponsorship for these purposes.
Where can I apply for immigration services in my country of origin
It is recommended that you contact your country’s representative office as soon as possible to learn about the immigration and visa services available to you. These offices can also answer your questions about immigrating to the United States. Call the US Embassy in your country to find out the name and telephone number of your country’s representative or closest local office.
Is there a fee for applying, and how do I pay this fee? If so
There is a non-refundable (unless you’re denied) fee of $325 to apply for an immigrant visa. Based on your income level (family size), if you qualify to pay this fee as “no charge,” then it will be waived (please see each step below). Also, if you are in deportation proceedings or have been ordered removed from the US, please see the section on filing fees. Remember – the government will not deny your application just because you didn’t pay the fee – they can only deny applications that do not meet all the requirements. The fee is non-refundable, but if the government denies you, you may be able to reapply with some or all of your original filing fee.
You must pay this fee online at www.uscis.gov/forms using a valid credit card (American Express®, Discover®, MasterCard®, or Visa®). If you cannot afford this fee and qualify as “no charge,” then it will be waived.
How long will it take before I know whether or not my application has been approved or denied
This depends on the program you applied for and what stage your application is currently at. For example, suppose you submitted an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485) based on an approved immigrant visa petition. In that case, we will review your Form I-485 within 180 days of receiving a complete application. If any additional information or documents are required, we will send you a Request for Evidence (RFE).
You must respond in a reasonable amount of time, as stated in the RFE. Once USCIS has reviewed all the evidence, and other required forms have been filed, we will decide whether to approve or deny your request to adjust status. Suppose you apply based upon the employment or family preference category, which requires approval of a labor certification or a visa number before you can use it to change position. In that case, we will decide whether to approve or deny your application six months after the Department of Labor has certified that there is no qualified US worker who will be available for the proposed employment at the time of such work. All required supporting documentation has been provided.
For self-petitioning spouses/family members (if applicable), once USCIS receives an approved Form I-130 and proof of your marriage, it takes two months from this date to process immigrant visas. Once they have their visas, they must prepare for travel by obtaining necessary passport documents, usually taking another six weeks. Then at this point, the family member may turn their attention to making final travel arrangements, getting required medical exams and vaccinations, etc., which can take another several weeks.
If an embassy or consulate is involved in filing the petition or for any other reason your case must be sent to that office for adjudication (e.g., Adjustment of Status cases requiring a consular interview and most family petitions), it may further delay the process by additional processing time at that office.
If the immigrant visa petition was filed with USCIS only, you must have a medical exam done overseas as part of your application for an Immigrant Visa or Green Card (Form DS-230). You didn’t do it before leaving the United States, and this could also cause a delay because once your file is sent to the consular section, they will return it to USCIS. After all, you have not completed the examination portion of the process.
In short, some petitions/applications take much longer than others to adjudicate, and many factors can slow down an individual case or even cause a denial of your application if all required forms aren’t completed on time. Because of this unpredictability, we encourage you not to make any final travel arrangements until it is inevitable that you are approved for permanent residence.
For more information, you may ask or consult with immigration lawyers in Houston.