USCIS Hikes Immigration Fees

USCIS plans to increase fees for immigration applications by an average of 96 percent, according to a notice placed yesterday in the Federal Register (Doc E7-1631). For instance, the cost of a green-card application (I-485) will rise from $325 to $905. USCIS says the higher fees will not only pay towards all general and existing costs but will help fund a streamlining of the immigration process, including new technologies and more staff, in an attempt to eliminate the department's notorious backlog. They are also intended to reflect increases in cost of living and inflation.

"The proposed fee increases range from $65 to $2,350, depending on the type of immigration or naturalization benefit for which the application or petition is submitted. Fifteen fees will increase by amounts between $65 and $200; eight fees will increase, and one will decrease, by amounts between $200 and $300; one fee will
increase by amounts between $300 and $400; and six fees will increase more than $400." (From FR Doc E7-1631.)

The jump in the I-485 cost and that of other applications will include the costs of "interim benefits" often filed by applicants while their cases are pending -- permission to work and to travel, for example -- so that these additional fees will not be paid at separate times but all at once. However, it seems the petitioner would still need to file the additional forms but will simply have paid ahead of time. There is no guarantee that the petitioner will need these benefits as USCIS projects and will therefore have paid for services not rendered.

USCIS also claims that the ending of certain temporary admission programs will cut the department's revenue, thereby necessitating increases in fees in other areas. For instance, INA section 245(i) allows relief for particular applicants who pay a $1,000 penalty on top of the application fees -- but only if they filed on or before April 30, 2001. The program can be legally re-enacted but hasn't been, resulting in drastically declining revenue for USCIS -- and further increasing of the undocumented population because people can't adjust their status. USCIS also cites its program of Temporary Protective Status, which it can extend to nationals of certain countries facing a crisis like civil war or natural disaster. Of course if USCIS worries about losing income from the current TPS groups' no longer needing the service, others are available for inclusion.

Immigrants can apply for fee waivers on certain grounds. But, for instance, if granted a fee waiver on the basis of inability to pay, the applicant may lose his/her case because most applicants must show they can support themselves financially once here. Fees can become compounded as asylees do not have to pay application fees, and the costs of their cases get pushed onto other applicants. In addition, petitioners must pay further fees to appeal certain decisions, file to re-open a case, file for a cancellation of removal, etc.

The proposed increases will take effect on April 2. Before that time the public may file opinions on the matter. Several members of Congress have already done so.

(The Washington Post also reported on this.)

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