On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that instructs United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to raise filing fees for numerous applications for immigration benefits. A 30-day period to allow for public comment begins on November 14, 2019.
USCIS is one of the few federal agencies that are funded by customers’ application fees. USCIS states that “federal law requires USCIS to conduct biennial fee reviews and recommend necessary fee adjustments to ensure recovery of the full cost of administering the nation’s immigration laws.”
Unfortunately, this proposed plan to increase USCIS filing fees comes as no surprise given the Trump administration’s efforts to severely limit immigration. The plan includes numerous spikes in fees that will undoubtedly make it more difficult for individuals to apply for immigration benefits in the future.
For example, the cost to apply for U.S. citizenship will increase from $725 to $1,170. According to the Los Angeles Times, the new fee for naturalization “totals about a month’s worth of gross income for an immigrant making the federal minimum wage.”
While there is currently a process in place for individuals to request a fee waiver if they cannot afford the USCIS filing fees, the proposed plan “would eliminate a reduced-fee option for applications from families with income between 150% and 200% of the poverty level and almost completely eliminate waivers for everyone else.”
There is no doubt that this plan aims to reduce the amount of individuals applying for naturalization who, if approved, would gain the right to vote. Studies have shown that previous fee increases lowered naturalization rates and disproportionately affected lower income and Latino immigrants.
Under the current USCIS fee schedule, individuals applying to adjust status or become lawful permanent residents (“green card holders”) must file Form I-485, which costs $1,140, along with an $85 biometrics fee for most applicants, for a total of $1,225. Currently, applicants may also file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, may file them along with the I-485 at no additional cost.
The new rule will require applicants who want to concurrently file the I-765 and I-131 to pay an additional $1,075. As a result, the total cost for an I-485, I-765, and I-131 package will increase from $1,225 to $2,195, a 79 percent price hike.
The new proposed rule is likely to draw widespread rebuke from immigration attorneys and advocates throughout the country as it is clearly another targeted ploy by the current administration to hinder legal immigration.