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Immigration Fee Increase: It's time to have your say - quickly! - November 21, 2019

If you have applied for an immigration benefit lately (temporary visa, permanent residence), you know the indignities of the process - especially in recent times. Slower decisions, outlandish requests for evidence, and no realistic way to communicate with the agency unless you are lucky enough to have an application that can be filed via premium processing and the funds to do so.

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) has proposed a fee increase adding insult to injury – including the fact that it is providing only a 30-day comment period (the usual is 60 days for most rule changes).

Why the change?

The agency claims that it will incur a deficit at the current fee rate. USCIS is fee-funded and last increased its fees in fiscal year 2017.

What has changed in two years? Inflation is not a big factor. A dollar in 2017 is worth about $1.05 today (the inflation rate in 2017 was 2.13% and in 2018 it was 1.76%).

USCIS proposes to transfer $200 million of its fee revenue to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). USCIS has sent its own staff to assist ICE and Customs & Border Protection in enforcement efforts and now claims that it needs more fees to fully staff its offices. 

The three immigration agencies used to work as one, the old Immigration & Naturalization Service. They were split in 2003 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. USCIS is meant to adjudicate benefits (applications for temporary or permanent immigration). While some enforcement work may be involved, this proposed change makes it clear that USCIS believes that those utilizing the system lawfully should pay for those who may not be.

USCIS has increased its own workload by making the process more cumbersome for all involved, including their own examiners.

For example, it withdrew guidance that examiners should generally respect USCIS past decisions unless they saw evidence of fraud or gross error. Now, people who have held a temporary visa must re-document every detail for an extension and often face extensive requests for evidence and even denials.

Similarly, changes in decision standards have led to requests for evidence on an increasing number of cases and denials of others. Denials beget appeals, motions to reopen, and lawsuits.

If these changes were being made in response to a rash of fraud or criminal behavior by people making applications, they would make sense. No such evidence exists.   

Increased Fee Examples

Examples of fee increases include a 79% increase in the fee for final “green card” application along with work and travel benefits (from $1225 to $2195 per person) and a new fee for employment and travel renewals.  Another is an 83% increase in the fee for naturalization (from $640 to $1,170).

Fees for H-1Bs, L-1s, Es, TNs and O-1s (among other temporary work applications) would also increase. The change is not enough to make these applications uneconomic, but they represent a large percentage increase (from 22-77% depending on the category requested).

Increased Processing Time

To top it off, the proposal would increase processing time from 15 calendar days to 15 business days. This adds almost a full week to the premium processing time frame.

Comment Period

Employers who know their need for foreign workers given the current and projected labor shortage at all levels should submit a comment on this rule. USCIS has already increased the cost of doing business indirectly. Now it proposes to increase it directly.

You can submit a comment on the federal register. If we can assist, please let us know. Comments are due by December 16, 2019.

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