What Does It Cost to Legally Immigrate to the US?

Seem to have aged backwards a few decades in this photo.

A few weeks ago, we got a very special email from our lawyer. It said: your permanent residency has been approved! Now, we’ve been waiting a while (4 years) for this. After 12 years of living full-time in the US, we can finally skip the long immigration lines at JFK and LAX. Oh glorious day!

This got me to thinking about the pros and cons. I wanted to count: Over the years, how much have we “put in” to the country, and how much do we “get out”? Luckily a lot of the monetary costs were covered by my employer, but it’s still interesting to count it up.

Cost: Monetary

  • Immigration fees: $2000 (covered by employer)
  • Lawyer fees: ~$8000 (covered by employer)
  • Work permit fees over 4 years: $6000 (covered by employer)
  • Doctor’s fees: $250 (out of pocket) to verify that you’ve taken all your vaccinations and don’t have tuberculosis. This is not covered by insurance or even done by normal doctors’ offices, only by special doctors.

So about $10k for the immigration, and $6k to maintain a work visa during the process of immigrating. Seems like a hefty chunk of change! I’m very grateful that my employer covered all of the direct fees. (Most of the big companies will do this, but not the small ones, since it’s an expensive process.) My employer offered $8000 to cover immigration fees as part of the startup package, but we went over, which they graciously still covered. The reason the fees are set so high is that USCIS is self-funded by the fees (so the current government shutdown didn’t affect processing of our application).

In addition to the direct fees, I think as my income tax contributions as an indirect payment to the country. Over 12 years (4 years of working), that totaled:

  • Federal income tax contributions: $67k
  • Social security and Medicare contributions: $22k
  • +State taxes, which I couldn’t find the numbers for

I don’t really have a good sense of monetary scale, but it feels l like I contributed enough to the country to “earn” a permanent residency, although this isn’t counted anywhere officially in the application.

Cost: Time

Dealing with USCIS (the government body that handles immigration) is like dealing with the DMV… except it’s a DMV that has no phone number, public-facing office, or really any human interaction at all (until the very last stage of the process). It’s basically a mysterious address that your lawyers mail huge stacks of paper to, along with a huge cheque. Then you wait 2-9 months for a reply in the mail saying whether your paperwork was accepted or not. And this repeats 2-3 times as you complete different stages of the process.

It took us 4 years to finish the process, which felt so so long. There’s lots of waiting, and uncertainty, and more waiting. There was a point in the process where USCIS made a mistake with our application, and we sent them multiple letters and emails trying to tell them of their mistake, but were met by a wall of silence. So frustrating! /endrant

To be honest, the immigration also sped up our marriage plans. We would’ve gotten married anyway, but doing it earlier rather than later simplified the immigration process for both of us.

On the flip side, there are also advantages to permanent residency, amirite?

Pro: Not getting deported

You can only work for 6 years in the US under a work visa, unless you immigrate. So getting permanent residency is HUGE weight off of our shoulders. We also no longer need to work to be able to live in the country, which is nice. For the past 12 years, it’s been study, study, study, work, work, work. Funemployment break imminent? Unlikely, but who knows 🙂

Pro: Eligible for more opportunities.

Before, there were so many opportunities that I would eagerly be reading about, and then see the dreaded words: “Citizenship or permanent residency required.” Part-time Starbucks job while in school? Not allowed. Scholarships for school? Most likely not. Now with my permanent residency card in hand, I can apply for stuff like government defense research grants, or simple stuff like TSA Pre. It also simplifies financial things like opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage. Woohoo!


Reflecting back while writing this post, I somewhat question why I came to the US.  I think I could’ve stayed in my home country and ended up with a similar career path and salary, plus the social services are way better back home. Out of my friends from home, maybe 10% came to the US and are working here now. I find the American pace of life generally more hectic and stressful, although the salaries are higher to partially make up for that, but probably not completely. But anyway, I am already here and settled, so the US will do nicely for now! Now just to get permanent residency for my siblings, cousins, and great-aunt… just kidding, just kidding.

Next step: US citizenship? Nah, it’s unlikely for me, as I feel a stronger affinity to my home country. My partner may go for citizenship though, as he’s getting tired of trekking to a consulate to a get a visa every time he travels abroad.

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