The comment period for the proposed USCIS fee increase has been extended until December 30, 2019. Previously, the comment period was set to end on December 16th and the new prices could have potentially gone into effect shortly thereafter. Given the new timeline, filing fee prices are likely to remain the same until at least early in the new year when a final decision can be made. There is very little chance that opposition to the proposal will ultimately be effective, so applicants should still plan to file their petitions as soon as they are able to avoid paying higher government fees.

Based on USCIS’s proposal, filing fees are likely to increase by an average of 18% across all application types. Some forms in particular will be subject to a much greater increase. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other rights groups are urging the public to speak out in opposition to the proposed fee increase, though this is unlikely to halt implementation. While USCIS claims higher fees are needed to accomodate staffing and labor costs, immigration attorneys argue that applicants will end up paying more money for less service, as USCIS delays, errors, and erroneous decisions have increased significantly in the past several months, despite a recent filing fee increase in 2017.

While the implementation of the new fee structure remains stalled by the commentary and decision making processes, USCIS has also announced a major change to the requirements for obtaining a fee waiver on an application. USCIS recently revised Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, eliminating the option to use evidence of receiving another means-tested benefit as the primary factor for receiving a DHS fee waiver. 

In the past, showing that you receive a means-tested benefit from the state, such as Supplement Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or Supplemental Security Income, was enough for USCIS to determine eligibility for Form I-912. Now, individuals and families must submit additional evidence indicating their monthly household income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or show other strong evidence of financial hardship.

As of December 2nd, USCIS will no longer accept the previous version of Form I-912 (prior to the new 10/24/19 version), will not accept letters expressing hardship in lieu of the form, and will not automatically approve the request for waiver if an individual receives or has received another means-tested benefit. This change should not affect most applicants who will still remain eligible for the waiver, but it will require more work and more evidence to apply.

Overall, filing a petition with USCIS is rapidly becoming more expensive and USCIS is becoming less sympathetic. Based on this trend, we expect to see implementation of additional financial obstacles in the future. Individuals who are currently or will soon be eligible to file petitions are encouraged to file as soon as possible, before more changes are announced.