USCIS Proposes Massive Fee Increases for Nearly All Applications

By Attorney Eric Welsh

Optometrists say that 20/20 means perfect vision, but we don’t expect the year ahead of us to be perfect.  Better, perhaps, for some; worse for others; doubtless full of changes, good and bad.  For immigrants and their families, one significant change should motivate that hallmark of the New Year: a resolution.  Specifically, we encourage immigrants who are eligible to apply for benefits (including adjustment of status and citizenship) to speak to an attorney and file applications without further delay, because massive fee increases are on the horizon.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for adjudicating and administering affirmative immigration benefits, published a proposed schedule of fee increases in November 2019.  Those fee increases have not yet gone into effect, and USCIS has not stated when they will, but many experts expect the increases to take effect within the next few months.

The increases are significant, much more so than the modest fee increases USCIS has made in the past, largely in response to inflation.  For example, the fee for filing an application for citizenship will nearly double, from $640 to $1,170.  DACA renewals will jump from $495 to $765.  For the first time, USCIS will charge a fee of $50 to file an application for asylum, with no waiver available for persons who cannot afford the fee, making the United States only the fourth country in the world to charge a fee to file an asylum application.

The fee for filing an application for adjustment of status (green card) will remain the same, but the current fee includes, at no additional cost, applications for a work permit and a travel permit, and no fee is charged for renewing a work permit.  USCIS is now proposing to charge separate fees for the work permit and travel permit (and for each renewal), resulting in an increase for first-time applicants from $1,225 to $2,195 for the same package.

USCIS is also proposing to eliminate reduced fees and fee waivers for low-income applicants, but keeping statutorily mandated fee waivers for battered spouses, U visa applicants, T visa applicants, and TPS applicants.  The elimination of the waivers, coupled with the increased fees, will likely have a devastating chilling effect on low-income immigrants from vulnerable populations.

The increases—and the elimination of fee waivers—is staggering, and some pundits have suggested that this is yet another brick in the “invisible wall” that the Trump administration is building to discourage and reduce legal immigration.  Last year, the administration published a rule change regarding the public charge ground of inadmissibility, and though that rule change has been temporarily stopped by a court injunction, these changes lay bare the Trump administration’s goal of preventing low-income families from immigrating lawfully.  USCIS contends that the increases are necessary to help fund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and address a growing agency deficit.  Whatever the reason, the increases seem to be unavoidable.

The proposed fee increases published by USCIS last November won’t go into effect until USCIS publishes a final rule, after considering public comments made to its proposed rule.  Experts expect that the final rule will be published in the first quarter or early second quarter of 2020.  It remains to be seen whether the final rule will contain the same increases and elimination of fee waivers set forth in the proposed rule, but in one form or another, significant fee increases appear to be imminent.

The new year is upon us, and the time for making and keeping resolutions is now.  There is no better time to apply for eligible benefits while the costs are still reasonable.  Many immigrants put off filing applications because of the cost, but those costs will only be more daunting the longer a person waits.  If you are eligible to apply for a green card, citizenship, or any other immigration benefit but have been putting it off for one reason or another, now is the perfect opportunity to fulfill a new year’s resolution and talk to an immigration lawyer.