What is the Cause for the Increase in Immigration and Asylum Fees?

October 12, 2020

At the end of July, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that some of their fees for immigration, naturalization, and asylum benefits would be seeing an increase of 20 percent. The USCIS is funded by the fees it collects, which makes up about 97 percent of their budget. The USCIS is required to perform two yearly reviews, with the most recent one showing that they were underfunded by approximately $1 billion. Once this deficit was analyzed, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put forth a new rule to increase fees and make other revisions.

The USCIS website indicated that higher fees reflect costs for vetting petitioners, beneficiaries, and applicants. The money is also needed to defray the costs of detecting and preventing fraud and resolving benefit requests; added funds are also needed to support USCIS technology, operations, and payroll. The changes go into effect on October 2, so any forms and documentation postmarked on or after that date must include the newly adjusted fees.

What Changes Should I Be Aware Of?

In addition to the immigration fee increases, there is now a $50 fee for asylum applicants. The rule also decreases fee waivers that are offered to reduce adjudication costs, and takes away some fee exemptions that had been in place. Applicants who use the online filing platform will now receive a $10 fee reduction. There will also be a few more changes that apply to inter-country adoption processing and premium processing time limits. In any case, it is best to look online and carefully scrutinize the new fees. The Final Fee column shows the rates that will be in affect on and after October 2.

Are Forms Changing?

The USCIS has also posted new, revised forms to take place. These forms include:

  • Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
  • Form I-600/I-600A, Supplement 3, Request for Action on Approved Form I-600/I-600A
  • Form I-765, Employment Authorization Application
  • Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver

There is a 60-day grace period in which they will accept old and new versions of the forms. However, the payment must correspond with the new fee schedules.

Which Fees are Increasing?

The fee increases vary, with some of the largest ones for the N-400 application, the naturalization form needed to apply for citizenship for those with permanent resident status. This fee has increased by 83 percent. Photo and fingerprinting prices have decreased, but do not compensate for the fee hike. Fees are also non-refundable, even if the application is rejected.

Voices of protest are being heard, with immigration advocates claiming that the Trump administration has taken further steps to cut back on immigration. In 2016, 110,000 refugees were allowed to come into the United States, but for 2020, the number is only 18,000. Charging fees to asylum-seekers is another measure that can make things more difficult for this population. According to the Miami Herald, this country is only one of four in the world that charges such a fee.

Refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants face continuing struggles once they arrive in the U.S. Aside from finding somewhere to live, they have to learn new languages and cultures. Studying to pass the test required to become a U.S. citizen and paying for the forms are added on top of this.

Immigrants Share Their Stories

One immigrant from the Dominican Republic became a permanent resident back in 2014 and paid $985. In 2019, she became eligible to apply for citizenship status; the N-400 naturalization application fee was also $640, plus the standard $85 biometrics fee. She passed the test at the Immigration Services office in Philadelphia and was awarded her certificate of citizenship the same day. As described earlier, this is one of the applications that will see an 83 percent increase after October 2; the biometrics fee will drop to $30. This woman’s husband is still in the process of meeting his residency requirement. New fees total a significant amount of money for this family and others in the same situation, especially if they are only earning minimum wage.

An employee for the Lancaster County’s Church World for more than three decades helped relocate more than 8,000 asylum-seekers. This immigration services group aids people from former Soviet republics, Cuba, Haiti, and many other countries. The employee also helped organizations assist refugees from countries, such as Myanmar and Syria, and believes that these people benefit their communities. The elimination of fee waivers is an added hardship, explaining that they helped lower income immigrants apply for naturalization for free. Now, this group may not be able to access the legal system or gain the right to vote. Certain protected immigrants, including victims of human trafficking and domestic violence will still qualify for these waivers.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at the MC Law Group, LLC Understand the Hardships Facing Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum-Seekers

The Department of Homeland Security’s rule sets many changes into place for immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers hoping to apply for residency, citizenship, and other statuses. The paperwork can be complicated, and the new fees can present real hardships. If you or a family member needs trusted legal guidance with any of these matters, contact an experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyer at the MC Law Group, LLC today. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 215-496-0690. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.