Early this year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposed a fee increase for certain immigration and naturalization applications, including green card applications. While this proposed increase is not the first of its kind, it could be the most significant in recent history, as the USCIS has not seen a fee adjustment since 2016.
USCIS Addresses Backlogs
The proposed fee increases would yield, on average, an additional $1.9 billion in revenue per year. According to USCIS, this is the necessary increase to accommodate for the projected workloads of FY 2022 and 2023, while preventing the future accumulation of backlogs.
The USCIS is approximately 96 percent funded by these filing fees, as opposed to taxpayer dollars in the form of Congressional appropriations. The proposed fee adjustment came out of a comprehensive fee review that is mandated every 2 years by federal law.
The review determined that the current fees are not enough to cover the agency’s operational costs, and that the increase is meant to remediate existing backlogs as well as improve customer service.
Despite the potential hardships this fee increase may cause for certain immigration and naturalization applicants, USCIS’s response to the added financial burden is to:
- Preserve fee waiver eligibility for low-income and vulnerable populations;
- Create additional fee exemptions for certain humanitarian programs;
- Limit fee increase for migrants applying for naturalization;
- Distribute fees based primarily on the applicant’s financial situation / ability to pay.
The Cost of a Green Card
The proposed fee increase has been met with criticism from various quarters, with many arguing that the increased fees will disproportionately affect low-income and immigrant communities. According to an article by NPR, the proposed fee increase will make obtaining legal status in the United States that much harder for low-income immigrants.
Green card applicants, in particular, will be significantly impacted by the proposed fee adjustments. The current fee of $1,225 is already a financial burden for many applicants, and the proposed increase to $1,540 will only make it more difficult for them to obtain legal permanent residency in the United States.
While green card applicants are currently allowed to apply for a green card and work permit at the same time, the proposed changes create separate costs for each, resulting in a raise in costs to file and process the same forms that some green card applicants have been filing for the past 6 years.
For families filing together, these costs can add up significantly. A family of four, for example, might pay an average of $3,950 under the current fee schedule to apply for green cards and two work permits. Under the new fee schedule, this price tag would increase to $7,460 if they file on paper, and $7,270 if they file online.
Green Card Applicants are not the Only Ones Affected
USCIS is also looking at a $120 increase to citizenship applications, a $555 increase to religious worker visa applications, and a $515 increase in petition fees to waive residency conditions with biometrics, allowing spouses of green card holders to become lawful permanent residents in the United States.
The proposed fee increase will likely have a significant impact on the immigration system in the United States. With the increased fees, low-income and immigrant communities will face more difficulty to obtain legal status in the United States which, in turn, could lead to increased levels of unauthorized immigration and family separation.
The USCIS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on this fee increase, specifically to modify certain immigration and naturalization filing fees, in the Federal Register on January 4, 2023 for a 60-day public comment period, which was planned to close on March 6, 2023, but on February 23, 2023 was extended to March 13, 2023.
We at the Law Offices of Wiliani-Malek understand that the proposed fee adjustments by USCIS will have significant impacts on green card applicants, particularly those from low-income and immigrant communities. Because a majority of our clients come from these communities, we are conscious of how the increased fees will make it harder for these individuals to obtain legal permanent residency in the United States.
It remains to be seen whether the proposed fee increase will be implemented, but for now, it is important for green card applicants to be aware of the potential impact on their ability to obtain legal status in the United States. To ensure the greatest chance of success with your immigration case, consult with our experienced immigration attorney today by calling +1 (714) 432-1333.