Practice Advisory: Applying to Naturalize with the New Partial Fee Waiver
How do the USCIS fee changes impact naturalization applicants?
USCIS has announced a new fee schedule that will take effect on Dec. 23, 2016. Under the new fee schedule, most fees will increase by an average of 21%. All applications postmarked on or after Dec. 23 must have the new fee. Below are the highlights of the new fee schedule for N-400 applicants:
- The current N-400 fee of $595 will increase by 8% to $640.
- The $85 biometrics fee will stay the same, so the total fee will be $725.
- Full fee waiver requests (Form I-912) will still be accepted, with no changes to the eligibility criteria. In order to qualify for a full fee waiver, an applicant must demonstrate that he/she is unable pay the fee based on one of the following criteria:
- the applicant has a household income that is at or below 150% of Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG);
- the applicant, his/her spouse, or the head of household is currently receiving a means-tested benefit; or
- the applicant has a financial hardship.
- A partial fee waiver (Form I-942) will become available on Dec. 23 for qualifying applicants whose annual household income is greater than 150% and not more than 200% of the FPG. A partial fee waiver will provide a reduced fee of $320 for the N-400. The biometrics fee of $85 would not be reduced with a partial fee waiver, so the total fee for a naturalization application would be $405. (Note that applicants age 75 or older are exempt from paying the biometrics fee, but will still be required to appear for a biometrics appointment.)
How do I determine whether a client qualifies for the partial fee waiver?
A naturalization client can qualify for a partial fee waiver if his/her annual household income is greater than 150% and not more than 200% of the FPG. The 2016 guidelines can be found at aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines. They are updated each year in January. USCIS will provide the income guidelines for the partial fee waiver on Form I-942P, which will be posted to the USCIS website on Dec. 21, 2016.
Loc is the sole wage earner for a family/household of four that consists of his wife and two teenage children. One of the teens is still in high school, while the other is attending a local community college as a full-time student. Loc earns $40,000 per year. The FPG for a family of four is $24,300. 150% of the FPG is $36,450, so Loc’s income is too high to qualify for a full fee waiver. However, his income is still below 200% of the FPG ($48,600) so Loc (and/or any family members who are eligible for naturalization) can qualify for a partial fee waiver.
Boris and Svetlana live with their daughter who works full-time as a nursing assistant. Boris receives Social Security and Svetlana has a part-time job at Walmart. Their combined household income is $45,000. The FPG for a family/household of three is $20,160. 200% of the FPG is $40,320. Boris, Svetlana, and their daughter cannot qualify for a partial fee waiver because their household income is above 200% of the FPG for a family of three.
How does my client apply for a partial fee waiver?
Starting on Dec. 23, 2016, naturalization applicants who meet the eligibility criteria may apply for a partial fee waiver. This requires submitting a newly created Form I-942 (no filing fee required) along with the Form N-400 accompanied by a reduced fee of $320 (and, if applicable, the $85 biometrics fee). Note that you can include a Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, if you wish to pay the N-400 fee using a credit card in lieu of a check or money order. The final version of the I-942, Request for Reduced Fee, will be posted on www.uscis.gov beginning Dec. 21, 2016, along with Instructions. USCIS has indicated that the final I-942 will be quite similar to the draft form which can be viewed at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=USCIS-2016-0001-0108. Form I-942 requires the names of all household members and documentation of household income to determine whether the applicant’s household income is greater than 150% but not more than 200% of the FPG.
If multiple family members in the same household are applying for naturalization with a reduced fee at the same time, you may submit one Form I-942 for them, but all the applicants must sign it. The N-400 applications and I-942 should be bundled and submitted in the same envelope.
Part 1 seeks basic information about the Requestor (full name, date of birth, A-number and marital status).
Part 2 relates to household income.
- The applicant must provide his or her employment status in Question 1.
- In Question 2, the applicant must indicate whether his or her spouse lives in the household in which case he or she should be listed on the Household Size chart in Question 3. NOTE: Even if the spouse does not live in the household, if s/he provides any financial support to the household, those contributions must be included in the Total Household Income figure requested in Question 7. Also, even if the spouses have been living apart for many years, they are still married unless they have gone through the legal process to obtain a divorce, and therefore, you must account for any income or support received by the spouse applying for a partial waiver.
- Question 3 requires that the applicant list the name, date of birth, relationship, marital status, and full-time student status (if applicable) of each member of the household as well as whether that person earns income counted towards household income. Income will be counted towards household income as long as it is received consistently or regularly as salary or wages. Additional information about how to calculate the applicant’s household size is contained in “How Do I Calculate My Client’s Household Size?” below.
- Question 4 asks for the applicant’s annual income. The applicant’s annual income will be the adjusted gross income from his/her most recent Federal tax return. If the applicant did not file a Federal tax return, this will be either his or her total household wage income before deductions for the previous 12 months or the total wage income from his or her IRS Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, covering the previous 12 months minus Federal, state, and local income taxes withheld. Supporting documentation of annual income must be included with the I-942.
- Question 5 asks for the annual income of all other household members. Supporting documentation must be included.
- Question 6 requests other additional income or financial support from outside the household, including parental/spousal/child support; educational stipends; royalties; pensions; unemployment, Social Security or Veteran’s benefits; and financial support from adult children, dependents, or other household members. Supporting documentation must be included.
- The amounts from questions 4, 5, and 6 will be added together to determine the Total Household Income requested in Question 7.
- Question 8 asks whether the applicant’s marital status, income, or number of dependents has changed since the applicant filed his or her Federal tax returns. If available, supporting documentation of such changes should be included with the I-942.
Part 3 is where the applicant will sign and certify, under penalty of perjury, that all information provided is true and correct. Part 4 is for completion and signature by the interpreter, if any. Part 5 is for the preparer to complete and sign, assuming someone other than the applicant prepared the form. Part 6 provides a space for any additional information that did not fit elsewhere on the form.
Make sure that you include with the I-942 all required evidence and supporting documentation to prove that the applicant’s household income is between 150 and 200 percent of the FPG (including the applicant’s annual income as well as each household member’s income), such as most recent Federal tax return, copies of consecutive pay stubs for a minimum of the past months, a recent Form W-2, Form SSA-1099, or employer statements on business stationary showing salary/wages paid. You must also include documentation of additional financial assistance as income, including court orders, bank statements, or IRS Form W-2 related to any parental/spousal/child support as well as an IRS Form 1099-MISC and IRS Form 1040 for those receiving unemployment benefits. Also, if any of the supporting documents included with the I-942 are not in English, you must also include a certified English translation of the full document.
Once your client has submitted his or her N-400 and I-942 to USCIS, the Lockbox will adjudicate the I-942 prior to accepting the N-400 application. Remember that beginning Dec. 23, 2016, all naturalization applicants must use the newest version of the Form N-400 that was released by USCIS in April 2016 (dated 09/29/16) and not the older editions (dated 09/13/13 or 03/26/16). For more information, see CLINIC’s rapid e-learning course, Completing the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400. If you would like to receive an e-mail and/or text message notifying you that the N-400 has been accepted, attach a completed Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, to the first page of your client’s application.
How do I calculate my client’s household size?
The following persons are counted in the household size:
- The applicant
- The head of the applicant’s household (if not the applicant)
- The applicant’s spouse, if living with the applicant
- Any family members living in the applicant’s household who are dependent on the applicant’s income, the applicant’s spouse’s income, or the head of household’s income, including:
- The applicant’s children or legal wards who are unmarried and under 21 years of age, and who live with the applicant;
- The applicant’s children or legal wards who are unmarried, are over 21 but under 24 years of age, are full-time students, and who live with the applicant when not at school;
- The applicant’s children or legal wards who are unmarried and for whom the applicant is the legal guardian because they have a disability or mental impairment and are unable to care for themselves and maintain their own household;
- The applicant’s parents who live with the applicant; and
- Any other dependents listed on the applicant’s Federal tax return or the Federal tax returns of the applicant’s spouse or head of household.
Who is the head of household?
The head of household is the person who filed the most recent Federal tax return for the household or earned the majority of the income for the household. If the applicant is not the head of household, then the head of household would be the person who filed the most recent Federal tax return on which the applicant is listed as a dependent or the person who provides the majority of the income for the applicant’s household.
Manuela, age 61, wishes to apply for citizenship. She has six children, all adults. She lives with her husband and two sons. One of the sons, age 30, is developmentally disabled and bedridden. He receives disability income. The other son is age 26 and works. Manuela and her husband are retired and did not earn enough income to file taxes this year. The son who works filed taxes as the head of household and claimed the others as dependents. Who is counted in the household size?
- The son who filed as head of household (and claimed Manuela as a dependent)
- Manuela’s husband
- Manuela’s disabled son
- Total: 4
Mohammed and his wife Khadija live with their two young children and Khadija’s mother. Mohammed and Khadija both work full-time, while Khadija’s mother helps with child care. Mohammed filed taxes as the head of household and claimed his mother-in-law as a dependent. Khadija’s mother wants to apply for citizenship. Who is counted in the household size?
- Khadija’s mother
- Mohammed (the head of household)
- Their two children
- Total: 5
How do I count and document annual household income?
Household income is the applicant’s income; the income of all family members counted as part of the applicant’s household; and any additional income or financial support received by members of the household. See Part 2, #6 in the Form I-942 for examples of additional income or financial support, including child support, unemployment benefits, educational stipends, and Social Security benefits.
To document annual household income, submit the applicant’s most recent Federal tax return and the most recent Federal tax returns for all family members counted in the household.
If there are no Federal tax returns, or the tax returns do not reflect current income, submit copies of consecutive pay stubs for a minimum of the past month, a recent Form W-2, Form SSA-1099, or statements from employers on business stationary showing salary or wages paid for all family members counted in the household.
Also include documentation of additional income or financial support received by household members, such as a court order for child support, a statement from the SSA indicating Social Security benefits received, or documentation from any agency providing the other income or financial assistance.
In the two scenarios listed above, how would you count and document the annual household income?
For Manuela, submit the most recent Federal tax return for the son who filed taxes as the head of household and claimed Manuela as a dependent. Submit evidence for any other additional income received by the household members, such as SSI income received by the disabled son; Social Security income received by Manuela and/or her husband; and any financial support provided by other adult children not living in the household. For example, if the other adult children provide a monthly contribution for rent or mortgage, include evidence of this such as cancelled checks or an affidavit.
What if the son did not file taxes as head of household, but filed on his own, and Manuela and her husband did not file because they didn’t earn enough to file? If the son provides the majority of the household income, he is still the head of household. Therefore, you would count his income and include his tax return. You would also count the disabled son in the household and include any income he receives for his disability.
For Mohammed, document the household income by submitting a copy of the most recent Federal tax return for both Mohammed and Khadija, along with evidence of any additional income received by household members, such as Social Security benefits received by Khadija’s mother.
What If my client is separated or lives apart from his/her spouse?
Grace works full-time and lives with her daughter who is in high school. Her husband lives in Ghana, and they hope to be reunited eventually. He is unable to provide any financial support; in fact, Grace sends money every month to support him. Grace’s household consists of herself and her daughter. She needs to document her income and any financial support she receives from her husband. Since her husband is not able to provide support, this should be explained in an affidavit, along with evidence of the support Grace provides to the husband every month.
What if my client is a student?
Maria, age 21, is a full-time student who receives financial aid and lives on campus in another part of the state. She returns to live with her parents when school is not in session. Maria’s parents claim her as a dependent on their taxes. Maria is part of her parents’ household and would count everyone listed on her parents’ tax return in the household size. She would submit a copy of her parents’ tax return along with evidence of any financial aid she receives, plus evidence of any other financial support received by other members of the household.
What if my client has a roommate?
Sead, age 55, is a widower who lives with a roommate who is unrelated to him. He works full-time as a security guard. The roommate pays half of the monthly fee for rent/utilities. The roommate is not a dependent and does not share finances or any other household expenses with Sead. Sead files taxes for himself. He also receives some financial support from his adult daughter. Sead is a household of one. He would submit evidence of his income (his tax return) and evidence of any other financial support he receives, such as the support from his daughter.
Summary: Documenting household size and income
Step 1: Refer to the tax return that the applicant filed or on which the applicant is claimed as a dependent. Count the persons listed on the tax return.
Step 2: If there is no tax return, check for naturalization eligibility issues, i.e. did the applicant fail to file taxes when required?
Step 3: If there is no tax return and there are no eligibility issues, refer to the I-942 instructions for who to count in the household size.
Step 4: Count the income of all the household members.
Step 5: Count any additional income or financial support received by household members.
Step 6: Compare household size and income with FPG.
What happens after the N-400 and I-942 are filed?
As indicated above, the Form I-942 and N-400 applications should be submitted together with the fees and all of the respective supporting documentation for each application to the USCIS lockbox address that corresponds with your client’s state of residence. The list of filing addresses is found at www.uscis.gov/n-400. We strongly recommend including a cover sheet that includes a list of all evidence submitted and organizing the supporting documents according to the list. It is also helpful to include tabs that make it clear where certain key evidence can be found.
Once the USCIS lockbox receives the application, they are responsible for the following activities: receiving, opening, sorting and staging mail; preparing and scanning documents; and entering document data into their system from scanned images. The USCIS-staffed Case Resolution Units adjudicate fee waiver requests and try to resolve issues with application packages so they can be accepted and sent to a USCIS office for further processing. If the partial fee waiver request is approved, USCIS will send the N-400 receipt notice to the representative and applicant, indicating that the case has been received and that the $320 or $405 fee ($320 + $85) has been paid.
USCIS expects that the processing time for the I-942 will be similar to the processing time for a full fee waiver application. The goal is to process the application within five working days. If 30 days have passed without a decision, you may email USCIS at mailto:email@example.com. If USCIS denies your client’s partial fee waiver request, the Form I-797 denial notice will explain the reason for the denial. If you do not understand why the request was denied, you may email USCIS at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if the I-942 is denied, the accompanying N-400 will be rejected and the entire application packet will be returned to you (including the application fees). You can reapply for your client at any time with additional documentation to support the partial fee waiver request or you may choose to refile the N-400 with the full filing fee.