02 Sep USCIS Change in US Visa Fees Highlights Attitude Toward the Most Vulnerable
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a new fee schedule for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that will take effect on 2 October 2020. According to the official USCIS announcement, the new fee schedule is “necessary to efficiently and fairly administer [the] nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland and protect Americans.” Despite the fact that the agency is normally self-funding from petition and application fees, the DHS also acknowledged that due to COVID-19, USCIS has seen a “dramatic decline in applications and petitions…which has also resulted in an unprecedented decline in revenue.” Although the entire world has been affected by COVID-19, it is no surprise that USCIS is being particularly hard hit when the President continues to introduce bans on foreigners traveling to the US as well as bans on the issuance of various visas. Without the ability to obtain a visa and travel to the US, of course, fewer petitions are being submitted, and USCIS is receiving fewer fees.
Due to lack of budget, USCIS also announced that at the end of August they plan to furlough approximately 13,400 workers, which is about 70% of its staff. The furloughs were originally set to take place on the 3rd of August but were postponed to allow Congress more time to come up with the $1.2 billion in emergency funding asked for. Thus, although an increase in fees may in fact be warranted to support the workload of USCIS, the specific fee changes that have been made shine a light on the discriminatory attitude the current Administration has against certain types of immigrants and non-immigrants. Although the fees are being increased by an average of 20%, the adjustments are not applied uniformly, meaning the change in specific fees ranges between a 45% decrease to a 546% increase.
Some of the US visa petitions/applications with the largest increases are those that are more humanitarian in nature. For example, the highest increase was for applications for dependent family members of U-1 non-immigrants who are victims of crime and are cooperating with US police, which saw a rise from $230 to $1,485. Often, many of these individuals have limited financial resources or are in difficult situations based on what they have experienced. By increasing the fee for qualifying family members so drastically, the government is basically telling these individuals not to report crimes that they fall victim to and not to cooperate with the police because they won’t be able to afford the application fees to ensure their family can remain in the US with them while they work with US police.
Another example of a shocking fee change is for asylum applications which have traditionally been free of charge but now require a $50 payment. Only three other countries in the world charge an asylum application fee – Iran, Australia, and Fiji. Most countries recognize that claiming asylum is a basic human right and therefore don’t charge fees to do so. Additionally, more often than not, asylum seekers have fled their homeland with little more than the clothes on their backs. To make matters worse, the fee is non-waivable (meaning unlike many other USCIS fees, an applicant cannot request a fee waiver based on economic hardship), and is payable per applicant, which means the burden is particularly onerous for families.
Other fees have increased as well, including the fee for the I-129 Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker, which is used for most employment-based scenarios. However, to average out to a 20% increase, a few fees have actually been reduced. These include applications for Certificates of Citizenship, applications for a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement imposed on many J-1 visa holders, the I-140 Petition for Immigrant Workers, and Green Card renewal applications.
The complete revised fee schedule can be found here, but some of the key changes to note are:
- I-129 Petition for H-1 Status: Increased from $460 to $555 (+ 21%)
- I-129 Petition for L-1 Status: Increased from $460 to $805 (+75%)
- I-129 Petition for O status: Increased from $460 to $705 (+ 53%)
- I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (non-DACA): Increased from $410 to $550 (+34%)
- I-140 Petition for Alien Worker: Reduced from $700 to $555 (- 21%)
- I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e): Reduced from $535 to $510 (-5%)
- I-130 Petition for Alien Relative: Increased from $535 to $550 for online filing (+ 3%) or $560 for paper filing (+ 5%)
- I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence: Increased from $595 to $760 (+ 28%)
- I-589 Application for Asylum: Increased from $0 to $50
- I-929 Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant: Increased from $230 to $1,485 (+ 546%)
- I-881 Application for Suspension of Deportation: Increased from $285 to $1,810 (+535%)
- N-400 Application for Naturalization: Increased from $640 to $1,160 for online filing (+ 81%) or $1,170 for paper filing (+ 83%)
- N–600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship: Reduced from $1,170 to $990 for online filing or $1,000 for paper filing (- 15%)
If you have questions regarding the USCIS change in fee schedule or would like to speak about a potential visa application please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.