U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, is the federal agency that processes applications for immigration benefits made in the United States. USCIS reviews and adjudicates hundreds of thousands of applications for marriage and employment-based green cards, H-1B petitions, applications for asylum, and others every single year. Almost every one of these applications will need to be accompanied by the appropriate filing fee. These fees currently run from less than $100 for fingerprints to more than $1,000 for green card applications.
The fees that USCIS collects are used to fund the agency’s operations, such as its payroll for the government employees who process the applications, and the facilities that house the different USCIS Service Centers. Due to increasing costs of operations, USCIS recently announced that it will increase the required fees for many immigration applications.
The Fee Increases
Effective December 23, 2016, USCIS will require the affected applications to be accompanied by the new fees. If an application is accompanied by the old (or otherwise incorrect) fee, USCIS will return the application to the person or company that filed it. This is very important for time-sensitive applications, such as applications for extensions of immigration benefits, and therefore foreign nationals and companies are encouraged to pay close attention to the information provided by USCIS about the specific fee increases.
Just a small number of the fee increases include an increase from $580 to $700 for Form I-140 Immigrant Petitions for Alien Workers, an increase from $1,500 to $3,676 for Form I-526 Immigrant Petitions by Alien Entrepreneurs, and an increase from $420 to $535 for Form I-130 Immigrant Petitions for Alien Relatives.
It is important to note that in the context of most employment-based applications, U.S. companies sponsoring foreign nationals for work visas or green cards cannot pass these additional costs on to the foreign workers. In most cases, the companies will be responsible for paying all of the increased fee.
The Purpose of the Increases
As stated, USCIS’ budget is almost completely funded by the fees it collects. Immigration law requires USCIS to review its set of fees every two years in order to determine if fee increases are required to make sure operations continue to run at an acceptable pace. This is the first time that USCIS has increased its fees in six years. Admittedly, the fee increase is significant because the average increase is more than 20 percent.
However, USCIS will continue to offer fee waivers for which applicants may qualify if they cannot afford the specific application fee associated with their case, or if paying the fee would cause them an undue financial hardship. For example, green card holders who are applying for U.S. citizenship on the N-400 Application for Naturalization may qualify for a reduced filing fee by filing the new USCIS Form I-942 Request for Reduced Fee.
There will likely be a fair amount of public pushback against the fee increases, but since USCIS has already published the new fees in the Federal Register, and since the agency’s operations only continue to grow, it is highly unlikely that USCIS will budge on these new fees.
Additional Blog Posts:
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012