Big Changes Proposed to USCIS Fees

On November 8, 2019 USCIS, the government office responsible for the processing of immigration applications and petitions, announced that proposed changes would be coming to their fee amounts. The bulk of the funds that keep USCIS running come directly from filing fees associated with immigration petitions. The proposed increase for filing fees is astronomical for some programs and includes the elimination of fee waivers for applications filed by lower-income applications.

This isn’t the first time USCIS has raised filing fees. In December 2016, fees increased by an average of 21%. USCIS is required to review their budget and fee schedule every few years but this year’s increases are not just because of a required review. A major reason for the fee increases comes after the Trump Administration’s budget for the 2019/2020 fiscal year diverted $207.6 million from the USCIS budget to ICE operations. Given that USCIS is almost entirely fee-funded, this budget reduction will cause huge changes in USCIS fees.

What are the major proposed changes?

One major change is that fee waivers will no longer be available for green card renewals, applications for work permits, applications to adjust status (green card applications), petitions to remove conditions from a green card, and naturalization. Before now, an individual could fill out and submit a form for a fee waiver with their application. If their income level was low enough, they would be eligible to have their case processed without paying filing fees. Now, for cases that lead to permanent residency or citizenship particularly, those waivers will no longer be available regardless of income.

Another change that is cause for concern is that for the first time USCIS will charge a filing fee for asylum applications. Historically, there has been no filing fee associated with asylum applications. It is understood that those seeking asylum are unlikely able to pay filing fees. Under the proposed change, an asylum seeker will have to pay a $50.00 filing fee.

DACA renewals are another main target for fee increases. As of now, filing fees for DACA renewal are $495.00 total. Under the new fee schedule, DACA renewal filing fees will total $765.00.

The last, and single-highest increase discussed today is the change to the filing fee for naturalization (citizenship). As of now, the filing fee is $640.00. If the proposed change is adopted, the filing fee for citizenship will be $1,170.00. This means that the cost of filing a citizenship application would increase by 83%.

What does that mean for my case?

Nothing if you have already filed your application or petition. But for those of you who have been waiting to start on an immigration application or petition, this means that if you do not act quickly your filing fees could be much higher than expected. I’ve heard clients again and again say that they are waiting until they are ready, to see if a new President will be elected, until their children get out of school, and on and on. It’s important to understand that waiting to file will likely only result in larger hurdles for you and your family to overcome. If these proposed changes are put into effect, a financial hurdle to obtaining legal status here in the United States will be added for many families.

If you are eligible for citizenship you should get your application filed as soon as possible. The single-highest increase in USCIS’s entire proposal was to the fee for a naturalization application. The 83% increase was so surprising, it has led some to wonder if USCIS is purposely trying to make naturalization too expensive for lower-income or minority applicants.

When does it go into effect?

No official date for the implementation of the increased fees has been released yet. However, USCIS is allowing public written comments on the proposed changes until December 16, 2019. A firm date for the application of new fee rules will likely be released then.

What should I do to protect myself?

First, and most importantly, you should talk to an immigration attorney about your options to apply for legal status. Our immigration system is undergoing massive changes and there is no sign of those changes slowing any time soon. Trying to navigate our immigration system on your own could end in disaster for you and your family. Find an attorney that will sit down for a consultation with you in person or over the phone and talk through your options.

Next, take action on your case. Get your case filed. It’s important. It’s your future. Changes like filing fee increases are only going to make it more and more difficult. Don’t wait.

Lastly, make sure you stay informed of changes to immigration law and policy. Check in regularly to news sources, blogs, USCIS, and/or an immigration attorney so you’ll know how any changes could affect you and your family.