The short and simple answer is, "It depends." There are a number of preliminary questions that have to be addressed first: is the person eligible for a green card, or permanent residence? Is the Petitioner someone who is eligible to file for that person? Is there a priority date? If so, what is the priority date? Is the priority date current? Assuming that a United States citizen wants to file for his/her spouse, where is the spouse? Location of the spouse, among other things, will determine whether the intending immigrant will pursue a consular filing case (where he/she appears for a visa interview in the person's native country) or an adjustment of status case (where the person files all the necessary paperwork from within the United States).
Currently, these are some of the estimated costs associated with a consular case:
I-130 filing fee: $420
Affidavit of Support Fee: $88
Visa Fee: $230
Visa Production Fee: $165
Costs associated with medical examinations, or attorney's fees, are not included.
Currently, there are some of the estimated costs associated with an adjustment of status case:
I-130 filing fee: $420
I-485 filing fee: $1070
I-485A: $1000 (note: this form is not applicable for all applicants; read instructions)
I-765 filing fee: see I-485 instructions
I-131 filing fee: see instructions
Medical Exam: Depends on the doctor
Again, costs associated with the medical examination or attorney's fees are also not included. Additionally, not all of the applicable forms to file for an adjustment of status package are listed, only ones which require a filing fee. Also, in both scenarios, we are assuming that a waiver is not applicable or needed. An I-601 waiver application costs an additional $585.
Cost-wise, the adjustment of status process is a more expensive process. However, there are certain advantages not to be ignored, such as the ability to file the paperwork and stay here in the United States while the case is pending, which, to some couples, is priceless. Keep in mind, though, that not every applicant will be eligible to adjust status here. There are certain legal issues that must be explored, such as whether the person is here in lawful status; how did that person enter the country (e.g., did he/she sneak in without inspection?); and under what circumstances did the person enter (e.g., did the person enter under the Visa Waiver Program?) Also bear in mind, especially in the context of the adjustment of status case that depending on the legal status of both the Petitioner and Beneficiary, sometimes all of the forms will be able to filed concurrently, in which case all the fees would be due, and in some other cases, you may only be able to file the I-130 initially and have to file the I-485 at a later time once the priority date becomes current.
How much are attorneys' fees? That is another subject in and of itself, and fees will vary largely from attorney to attorney. Some attorneys charge hourly while others charge on a flat fee basis. Rates will also depend on the complexity of the legal issues involved. A person who is currently out of status but married to a US Citizen might be eligible for adjustment of status based on his/her status as a grandfathered alien under Section 245i. Or a person might be eligible but potentially have problems at the interview regarding pre-conceived intent. In both of those examples, it would be reasonable to expect that the attorney's fee will be higher than a simple, routine case.