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Immigration Filing Fees Are About to Get Much Higher

Immigration application fees are going up this year.

CREDIT: Flickr user Zachary Korb.

Immigration and naturalization application fees are soon going up by an average of 21 percent this summer, according to a new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposal that will be enacted in the coming months.

Agency officials are attributing the sudden increase to the high costs required in keeping the organization afloat, as maintaining current fees “do not recover the full costs of services.” It has been projected that the agency risks facing an average annual shortfall of $560 million between costs and fee account revenues if it continues operating on present fee levels and payment formats.

The USCIS last adjusted its fee schedule in 2010. These newly proposed changes will range from actions such as a $45 increase for naturalization applications to a $195 hike for fiancé visa forms. The rules will also include a new fee of $3,035 to recover the full cost of processing the Employment Based Immigrant Visa, Fifth Preference (EB-5) Annual Certification of Regional Center, Form I-924A, as noted in this summary chart. In addition, the proposal may even require individuals applying for certain benefits to appear for biometrics services, interviews, and to pay the biometrics services fee, among other changes.

While some people are blasting the proposed increases as “quite high,” most are in agreement that the agency needs improvement. “When USCIS increases filing fees, our hope is that they will use the increased revenue to improve efficiency and reduce processing times,” said Justin Storch, manager of agency liaison at the Council for Global Immigration.

Low income immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens are largely exempt from these new increases. Under the proposed rules, “DHS would charge a reduced fee of $320 for naturalization applicants with family income greater than 150 percent and not more than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.”

This is a huge win for those hoping for increased access to United States citizenship, as the allowance will effectively cut in half the current cost of naturalization — $680, including the $85 biometric fee for qualified individuals by seeking an additional $45 increase in the cost of naturalization applications for those immigrants who are able to afford the costs.

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), who has been promoting naturalization and voter registration across the country is a supporter of the ruling. “Right now, a lot of immigrants face a difficult choice: pay $700 or so for the chance to take all the tests and apply for citizenship, or pay $450 to renew a green-card for five years,” Gutiérrez says in a statement.

“Now, the math is much better. You can apply for citizenship and a fee waiver and become an American citizen – with all the rights, duties and honor of citizenship – for a more attainable price or maybe even for free,” he says. “The new calculation is going to mean that millions of those who are already eligible can finally take the step and apply for citizenship.”

As of right now, immigration and naturalization fees reportedly account for 95 percent of USCIS’ funding. The new fee increases are expected to most impact employers that bring college-educated workers to the U.S., as well as immigrant investors, which, according to Amy Gulati, manager of HR operations and immigration processing at Cvent, an event management software company based in Virginia, “will have the biggest impact on smaller businesses, where the cost will be felt more.”

It’s a “steep increase for any government fee,” says Gulati. “Increasing fees and potentially increasing portability of various filings is guaranteed to make employers scrutinize these investments more closely. If the increased fees result in faster service, that’s great, but things have become so backlogged that it will take a while to catch up to neutral,” she notes.

Public comments by interested individuals on the proposed rules can be submitted to USCIS and DHS by July 5, 2016.

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