We have noticed that there is still some confusion regarding the USCIS immigrant visa fee and where it is paid. Especially amongst the Gujarati Indian community (fostered through misunderstanding or sometimes through deliberate deception by “agents” not licensed to practice US immigration law), there is a misconception that the fee is paid in the immigrant’s home country. This is not true. The USCIS Immigrant Visa Fee of $165 is paid online. After the applicant appears for the immigrant visa interview, he/she will be provided with an information sheet that details the mechanics of how the fee is paid. The handout will indicate the individual’s alien registration number and Department of State Case ID, two numbers that are necessary to input when paying the fee. Before the immigrant immigrates to the United States, the immigrant visa fee should be paid by logging in online at www.uscis.gov/file-online. Fortunately, now, the procedure allows anyone to pay the fee, including attorneys, family members, friends, employers, etc.
It is worth emphasizing that the fee is intended and meant to be paid before the immigrant arrives to the US. Provided that the fee is paid and acknowledged, the immigrant will receive the physical green card shortly after entering the US. (The card can take up to 120 days to receive.) If the fee is not paid, the applicant will not receive his/her green card, as the fee covers the numerous costs associated with visa processing and card production. Only after the fee is paid and acknowledged will USCIS produce and issue the Form I-551 green card. Although it is not impossible to pay the fee after arrival in the US, the process can be extremely frustrating and confusing. Some individuals who forgot to pay the fee prior to immigrating have waited more than a year before finally receiving the card.
The physical card itself is obviously very important as it bears proof of the individual’s permanent resident status. However, contrary to popular belief, absence of the card does not, in and of itself, indicate that individual is out of status or has no status. If the immigrant was lawfully admitted at a port of entry by CBP after presenting the Immigrant Visa Packet, his/her passport will be stamped. That stamp is valid proof, for up to one year, that the individual is a lawful permanent resident. Nevertheless, in practical terms, that stamp may not signify much to those who are not knowledgeable about the immigration process. Without the actual card, the newly arrived immigrant may have difficulty finding employment (even though employment is authorized incident to status) or qualifying for a driver license. So the moral of the story is don’t forget to pay that USCIS Visa Production Fee! Receiving the visa is not the end of the process.