• Alexander McShiras

NEW IMMIGRATION FEES DISCOURAGE NATURALIZATION

The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on July 31, 2020, that it will begin increasing fee requirements for applications.


USCIS expressed that the fee increases are an effort to reduce the budget shortfalls they are currently experiencing. USCIS has come under scrutiny recently because they claim that they have a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. However, in reply to Congressional audits, USCIS is projecting to end the fiscal year with a sizeable surplus. These new fee increases are not necessary and will only discourage applicants from applying for legal status. The increase in fees will go into effect on October 2, 2020, making many application charges increase by greater than 500%. The USCIS budget is mostly funded by immigration applications. 97% of the USCIS budget is provided by legal permanent resident renewals, work authorizations, asylum, travel permission, and Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

In 2003, USCIS was created including Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). USCIS increased fees by 21% in 2016, and with the current rates, the agency would lose approximately $1 billion annually. USCIS also predicts that application and petition requests will drop by 61% due to COVID-19 by the end of 2020. According to USCIS, the loss in revenues will result in over 13,000 employees working for USCIS being furloughed on August 30. USCIS asked Congress for $1.2 billion in emergency funding. Congress did not approve this request due to the huge discrepancy in the figures. USCIS has delayed the furloughs for now but says that they may need to implement furloughs soon to provide a cushion to begin the new fiscal year on October 1, 2020.

USCIS also claims that the increase in fees is necessary to properly administer the nation’s immigration system and maintain the protection of the American people. Immigration advocates argue the fee increases are being implemented with the intent to destroy immigration. Advocates point out the effort exerted by President Trump to justify the economic requirements for green cardholders. The initial application for a oner-step adjustment of status to get a green card decreased by $10- from $1,760 to $1,750. However, that old application price included travel benefits and work authorization while the application was pending approval. The new increase in fees will raise the current price of $1,760 for all applications to $2,860 when filing for benefits separately. Green card renewals are currently taking up to 15 months to get approved, whereas DACAs are being approved in less than three months due to a court order.

Some applicants can request for their fees to be waived, but even this option will be disappearing. The new rule going into effect in October will establish new limitations on fee waivers. Battered women and children and those requesting temporary protection might be eligible for fee waivers under the new rule. Juveniles who were determined to be neglected or abused could previously have their fees waived whereas, under the new rule, only those in the foster care system will be able to apply for a fee waiver. Asylum seekers used to be able to complete their applications free of charge but now they will be required to pay a $550 application fee and $30 for biometric testing. This makes the United States one of the few countries in the world that charges a fee for asylum applicants who are fleeing persecution in their home country. The increase in fees leaves many immigration lawyers rushing to finish applications before October 2nd to avoid the new charges. Immigrants will find it quite difficult to afford the excessive charges necessary to become legal residents.

The Pew Research Center states that there is a 93% increase in naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote from the turn of the century. The United States has 23 million immigrants who live all over the country, but 61% live in California, New Jersey, New York, Florida, and Texas. The United States is a country that does not look like it was 50 years ago and many people in power do not appear comfortable with the current situation. One way the Trump administration delaying new voters is by preventing them from becoming legal. If you are planning to apply for any type of immigration benefit, we strongly recommend that you do so before October 2, 2020, before the fees increase. Please call us to schedule a consultation if you have any questions or need assistance with your case.

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