USCIS Proposes Fee Increases

Erick Widman

USCIS has announced a plan to significantly increase filing fees for nearly every type of immigration petitioner — another step toward making legal immigration exceedingly difficult.

The majority (about 96%) of USCIS operations are funded by filing fees supplied by applicants. While it is understandable that there may be a need for increased funding to support operations, the recent proposal suggests that the extra fees will be used primarily to fund ICE and their attempts to deport more individuals and further secure our southern border. According to the 314-page proposed rule, the increased budget would allow an additional $200 million to be allocated to ICE annually.

According to USCIS’ data, the agency will become underfunded by approximately $1.3 billion annually if they continue with the current fee structure. Another significant fee increase was implemented less than two years ago, in 2017, to account for ongoing lack of funding and staff shortages.

While USCIS has proposed a weighted 21% increase across the board, a few of the proposed fee changes are significantly larger than this and are particularly surprising and unprecedented. For example, USCIS intends to implement a $50 fee for asylum applications (currently there is no fee) and nearly double the price of the citizenship application — from the current $640 (not including biometrics fees) to $1,170. The application to Adjust Status in the US (another very common petition) will increase from $1760 to $2750.

Worldwide, it is very uncommon to charge a fee to individuals seeking asylum and even the relatively small fee of $50 could present a huge hardship for thousands of applicants. This is especially the case with applicants currently in detention who would have no way to acquire the funds. If the United States adopts this new required fee, we will be 1 of only 4 countries that charges for asylum protections (along with Australia, Fiji, and Iran).

The huge increase in naturalization fees seems particularly unfair, as it punishes law-abiding, tax-paying Lawful Permanent Residents who have already paid thousands of dollars to USCIS in order to remain legally in the US for three to five years preceding their application.

As of November 14, 2019, a public comment period has been open for discussing the proposed changes. Negative reactions are expected, but this is unlikely to be enough to keep the agency from officially adopting the majority of the proposed new fees.

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