Frequently Asked Questions about Pangea’s Fees

Revised on July 22, 2016


1.  Is it legal to be registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization and also charge fees?

Yes.  Nothing in the law prevents charitable organizations (or nonprofits) from charging fees. Nonprofits like hospitals, universities, low income housing providers, and community-based organizations have charged fees for services for years, and fees are becoming an increasingly large proportion of nonprofit budgets.  One factor to consider when establishing nonprofit fees for services is whether the service is related to the organization’s mission.  If it is not related, it must be reported as unrelated business income (UBIT).  See

2.  Does Pangea provide pro bono services?  

Yes.  Pangea provides free legal services to immigrants thanks to donations and grants, such as our government-funded San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative (“SFILDC”) grant.  We also represent all detained clients on a pro bono basis, free of charge.  Our fees help support this pro bono work.  In addition, Pangea exercises discretion to accept pro bono non-detained clients on a case-by-case basis.

3.  How low are Pangea’s fees?

In comparison to the private market rate for comparable services, Pangea charges low fees for immigration legal services in complex matters, particularly for immigrants and refugees.  While we have broad expertise in immigration law and deportation defense, the majority of our cases consist of complex asylum cases in court proceedings.  Our typical flat fee bundle for an asylum case in removal proceedings is currently $4,000.  This includes the principal applicant’s asylum application, all supporting documents, basic briefing if required, basic motions if required, up to two master calendar hearings and one individual merits hearing.  In comparison, the private market rate for comparable high quality services in court proceedings is approximately $7,000-10,000.  Pangea has a fee chart for all our services, which we assess and revise on a bi-annual basis, and it is available upon request.

4.  Can clients make their payments in installments? 

Yes.  Almost all of Pangea’s clients pay their fees in installment payments.  The amount of the installment is assessed on a sliding scale basis, based on clients’ self-reported ability to pay.  Clients make payments of about $100-$300/month. Pangea is flexible about late payments and extensions, and we have never stopped representation because of non-payment of fees.  Our experience is that our clients make honest, good faith efforts to make timely payments. 

5.  Does Pangea assess household size and income when quoting fees?

Our experience has shown that for the immigrant community, especially newly arrived community members, household size and income is not a particularly relevant point of reference.  Some clients have relatives who can help.  Others obtain new jobs or change their employment, earning different levels of income.  Some clients are unemployed but have access to wealth that is not reflected in their income or household size.  Although almost all of Pangea’s clients are of limited means, many are willing and able to prioritize paying fees for legal services, especially when offered an individualized sliding-scale installment plan.  In determining the amount of the sliding scale payments, Pangea prefers to work in an honor system and simply asks clients what they can commit to paying on a monthly basis.

6.  What does Pangea do when clients don’t pay their fees?

Pangea is flexible about late payments and extensions, and we have never stopped representation because of non-payment of fees.  Our experience is that the community makes an honest, good faith effort to make timely payments.  Some clients have experienced severe hardship during the course of their immigration case, such as eviction, homelessness, medical emergency, or detention of a loved one.  In those extreme circumstances, we suspend payments or offer our services on a pro bono basis. 

7.  Do all of Pangea’s detained clients receive free services? 

Yes.  Our clients who are detained do not pay any fees for services while they are in detention.  We recognize that detention is an extremely difficult time in people’s lives, which often affects the breadwinner of the family.  Once out of detention, clients pay our normal fees for post-release legal representation.  However all services provided while being detained are pro bono. 

8.  What about the many immigrants that cannot afford to pay any fees at all?  

Pangea provides a list of pro bono service providers to all individuals who receive a consultation.  There are few service providers who represent individuals in removal proceedings free of charge, and they are frequently at capacity or unable to accept complex, removal defense cases.  Pangea’s experience has been that many clients of limited means are willing and able to make payments for their deportation defense services, especially with an installment plan.  Although they are unable to afford a private attorney, they can afford Pangea’s low fees. 

9.  How does charging fees increase Pangea’s autonomy and the best interests of the community?

One of the reasons why Pangea charges fees is because we believe in being accountable to the community and working for the community.  Fees paid by directly affected community members give us organizational autonomy and political independence.  This allows us to have the immediate best interest of the community in mind without any conflicting interests. It also encourages funders to be guided by our community’s needs with us. With unrestricted revenue, we have the power to create and define our own projects, act creatively, and engage in advocacy strategies that best serve our community. 

10.  Why should foundations and governments partner with fee-for-service nonprofits like Pangea?  

Pangea’s fee-based revenue coupled with our grant income allows us to grow sustainably while maintaining the highest quality immigration services for our community.  By leveraging our fees together with grants, Pangea aims to increase its staff size and capacity to represent more people in deportation proceedings. Pangea’s revenue has doubled every year for the last three years (2013, 2014, 2015) by diversifying sources of income.  We have been able to leverage fees with foundation and government grants as well as university fellowships.  By this means, we aim to continue to increase the number of immigrants and refugees we can represent.  Diversified income is essential for the long-term health and sustainability of a nonprofit organization.  We are strongest when we are not predominantly dependent on any one source of revenue. When foundations and governments invest in organizations that have fee-based revenue like Pangea, they can count on their investment being leveraged to impact a greater number of individuals in a sustainable way.

11.  Will Pangea’s resources go even further when I make a donation?

Yes, Pangea leverages each donation, grant, and contribution to build capacity.  Our goal is to hire 2 to 3 additional staff each year for the next 5 years to increase the number of immigrants and refugees we represent and advocate for.  With the constantly increasing need for removal defense services, our dream is to build our legal representation capacity as well as our advocacy and education programs.  The need for deportation defense services is great, and we are doing as much as we can to help close the gap.