On July 31st, 2020, DHS announced a final rule regarding the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fee schedule, which would dramatically increase USCIS filing fees for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests. Overall, USCIS fees are being increased by a weighted average of 20 percent, according to USCIS.
The changes to filing fees include a first-ever $50.00 fee for asylum seekers and an 80% increase for naturalization services, which would raise the cost of online naturalization applications from $640 to $1,160. In addition, the changes announced include a $10 fee for the registration requirement for petitioners filing H-1B petitions on behalf of cap-subject aliens. I-765 Application for Employment Authorization fees will be increased by $140 (34% increase of the original $410 fee) and I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence fees have been reduced by $10 to amount to $1,130.
A detailed fee schedule, noting old fees and new fees for each application type, can be found here (or on uscis.gov/forms) on the USCIS website. On its website, USCIS specified that all filings postmarked December 23rd, 2016 or later must include the new fees or they will be rejected.
Effective on October 2nd, 2020, this new rule will support payroll, technology, and operations of USCIS. According to the agency, current fees would leave USCIS underfunded by around $1 billion per year. Immigration fees have risen to an extraordinary level in recent decades in the United States. For instance, in the 1990s, naturalization application fees were under $100.
The addition of a new asylum fee is important, as the U.S. joins Iran, Fiji, and Australia as countries that impose fees on asylum-seekers. Many immigration attorneys and activists have decried the added financial burden, as the right to seek asylum in the U.S. should not be conditioned on the ability to pay a fee, no matter what amount.
Human Rights First, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) international human rights organization, denounced the rule soon after it was issued. The organization’s Deputy Legal Director, Anwen Hughes, stated: “Asylum seekers typically arrive in the United States with very limited resources that quickly dwindle. For some who are detained upon arrival, the total amount of money they have available to them by the time they are filing for asylum can be less than this application fee.”
While these fee changes have been added, the proposed $275 renewal fee for DACA recipients has been removed so that DACA fees for employment authorization and biometric services will remain at 2017-levels.
USCIS deputy director for policy, Joseph Edlow, has stated that “USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures and make adjustments based on that analysis.” He added, “These overdue adjustments in fees are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland and protect Americans.” In a Facebook post, USCIS announced that these fees are reviewed every other year by law.
Note that USCIS, experiencing the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, risks facing a revenue shortfall for the calendar year, despite having a budget surplus for the fiscal year. This will likely contribute to over 13,000 furloughs if USCIS does not receive a $1.2 billion emergency fund from Congress. USCIS is a peculiar federal agency because, rather than coming from the government, it receives its funds mainly from fee collection. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump’s recent immigration restriction-oriented policies, the agency has received fewer applications, contributing to its revenue shortfall.
According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, such furloughs will halt U.S. immigration, which will hurt families, businesses, educational institutions, medical facilities, and churches. Additionally, if USCIS is close to being shut down, immigrants in the process of naturalization will be unable to complete the process in time to register to vote, DACA recipients will not be able to renew their benefits, asylum applicants will face significant delays to their cases, and businesses will be unable to hire and retain non-citizen employees. The Migration Policy Institute concluded that for every month that the USCIS furlough lasts, 75,000 applications will not be processed. Fortunately, USCIS has agreed to move the previously-set date for these furloughs from August 3rd to August 30th.