Tag Archives: #naturalization

Massive Fee Hike Endangers Vulnerable Immigrants

Just days before a massive filing fee increase was set to go into effect for naturalization applications, and before a first-in-history fee for asylum applications was to be imposed, a federal judge granted a nationwide temporary reprieve.  See the 35-page order here.  

The Trump administration sought to increase the filing fees for naturalization by over 80% , eliminate most fee waivers for low-income immigrants, and create new financial barriers for immigrants seeking asylum protection in the U.S. The fee increases, which USCIS claims are necessary to subsidize the fiscally-challenged agency, were originally scheduled to go into effect on October 2, 2020. 

Federal Judge Rules that Fee Increase Will Endanger Vulnerable Immigrants

On September 29, 2020, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on some of their claims, and wrote:  

“The public interest would be served by enjoining or staying the effective date of the Final Rule because if it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigrant benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”

The plaintiffs, which included several non-profit organizations which serve the immigrant community, also argued that defendant Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was improperly appointed, and therefore his actions, such as proposed fee increases, are unlawful.  

Plaintiffs also made the case that the USCIS fee rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs federal agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to appeal.

Immigrant Rights Groups Applaud the Ruling

One of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, issued the following statement on the court’s order:  

“USCIS’ Fee Rule is unlawful and incredibly destructive, and we applaud the court’s decision to protect millions of immigrants and their families. 

The Rule, which disproportionately harms people of color, is a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to create financial barriers for asylum seekers, families, and would-be citizens in order to prevent them from obtaining United States residence or U.S. citizenship. 

This is immoral, classist and a blatant violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The injunction will ensure that millions of low income immigrants, applicants for naturalization, asylum seekers, survivors of domestic violence and survivors of human trafficking will be able to affordably apply for the immigration benefits they are eligible for.”

What This Means for Immigrants Seeking Benefits

Until further notice, applicants will not be subjected to the fee increases as outlined in the regulation.  It is expected that USCIS will issue an update regarding the impact on the order on new editions on forms that were to be implemented on October 2, as part of the fee increase.

Monitor this issue closely and refer to the USCIS website for updates.  


Richard Herman is a lawyer without borders. A nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author and activist, he has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration.  He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.”  He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

Image:Neelam Sundaram on Unsplash

Naturalization Fees Spike On Oct 2

If you are eligible for naturalization, or some other immigration benefits, now is the time to apply!

After concluding their biennial review of fee collections last month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a significant increase in filing fees for many applicants. The USCIS fee increase, as given in the Final rule document, will take effect from Oct 2, 2020.

The average weighted fee increase is 20%.

For the first time in U.S. history, USCIS has also introduced a fee for asylum applications and an elimination of many existing fee waivers. 

On September 2, 2020, USCIS issued this policy guidance

Here are some of the important upcoming changes:

Naturalization

The N-400 naturalization application fee will increase from $640 to $1160 for online applications and $1170 for paper applications – an 83% increase!  

Not only will applicants pay higher N-400 filing fees, but they also will not have the option to apply for a fee reduction ($320), a whopping 266% increase in the filing fee, for those whose income is greater than 150% and less than 200% of the poverty level.  

USCIS has also eliminated the N-400 fee waiver for those with income greater than 200% of the poverty level.

Unfortunately, while this may not have been the intention, the effect of these fee increases is to create a wealth test to become an American citizen.

This new fee structure does not correspond to the inflation rate increase in the United States during the two years from the previous assessment. Justifying the increase, the USCIS says that the fee was held below cost in the past and the new fee will reflect the full cost of providing the service.

However, this fee increase does not consider how much of a barrier finances are to immigrants looking to naturalize. Financial and administrative barriers stand in the way of naturalization for 13% of Mexican and 19% other lawful immigrants, according to a 2015 survey, published by Pew Research. Besides the financial burden, the new fee penalizes immigrants who abide by the law and forces them to turn to predatory financing to afford the USCIS fee.

It is a fact that naturalization offers many economic and social benefits to legal immigrants. 

  • Research shows that naturalized citizens have higher employment rates and can earn up to 70% more than non-citizens 
  • Full protection of the U.S. Constitution
  • Protection from potential deportation
  • Ability to travel overseas and live outside of the U.S. without fear of abandoning the right to the green card;
  • Ability to vote and have an impact on elections
  • Ability to sponsor parents, siblings and married children for permanent residency; and
  • Ability to work in more U.S. government-related jobs that require security clearances.

Non-Immigrant Workers

In the proposal, USCIS has also proposed to split the I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker (application cost of $460) into multiple forms, with most forms having a higher fee. For instance, the I-129H2A—Named Beneficiaries application fee will be $850, an 85% increase. The change would apply to all classifications sought through the Form I-129.

Registration of Permanent Residence or Adjustment of Status

The USCIS fee structure will also change for the Form I-485 applicants. An unbundling of filing fees will mean that they will have to pay extra for work authorization (Form I-765) and their travel document (Form I-131). This new structure will result in nearly doubling the fee, which will be $1130 for I-485, $550 for I-765, and $590 for I-131. 

Drop in Immigration

These changes come at a time when there has been a significant decrease in legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. According to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), there was a 7.3% (86,894 people) drop in immigration from FY 2016 to FY 2018, and the majority of the decrease has been in the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including children, spouses, and parents, reported Stuart Anderson for Forbes. 

Certain countries, including Mexico and China, are over-represented in the declined applicants with a decrease of 7.3% for Mexico and 20% for China, adds Anderson. Numbers in other segments of immigration also indicate the direction taken by the Trump administration: 

The annual ceiling for refugees and asylum seekers is set by the President in consultation with Congress. The 30,000 ceiling for FY 2019 was the lowest since the creation of the resettlement program in the 80s, according to Migration Policy. There has also been a marked change in the number of people approved for asylum, with a decrease in 43% from FY 2016 to 31% in FY 2019. The ceiling is at 18,000 for FY 2020, adds the report.

The Need to Reform USCIS 

Unlike most government agencies, the USCIS relies on fees for its funds. In FY 2019, the USCIS fee carryover went into the negative for the first time since 2007, and it is expected to reach $1.5 bn this year, says Migration Policy research. The researchers add that a decreasing petition rate and greater processing times are two important factors in the turnaround: a one million drop in petitions in FY 2018 resulted in a $152 million drop in fees, and continued drop in a petition with highest fees in FY 2019 resulted in a $13 million drop. At the same time, money spent on vetting applicants and detecting benefit fraud increased significantly (an increase of $96 million for vetting and $202 million for fraud from FY2016 to FY 2020). 

The Bottom Line

These facts and figures clearly indicate a need to change the priorities of the USCIS, so that it can not only support itself but also ensure that it facilitates the people depending on it for swift processing. Unfortunately, the new changes indicate a continuation of policies to make naturalization difficult for lawful immigrants and further increasing the backlog of cases. 

This final rule will take effect from Oct. 2, 2020, and will apply to any application postmarked on or after this date. If you have a petition or application to submit, then consider submitting it before the date to avoid the new fees.


Richard Herman is a lawyer without borders. A nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author and activist, he has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration.  He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.”  He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

 

Immigration Fees Increase Can Affect You

On July 31, 2020 the Department of Homeland Security announced an increase to many fees for immigration and naturalization benefit requests. Although most fees are increasing, a $10 discount is offered for online submission where available.

Employment Visa Updates

Employers are understandably concerned about the potential effect the rule has on H-1B, L-1, and other immigrant employees.

For employers with more than 50 employees and more than 50% of those employees in H-1B or L-1 status, a $4,000 fee applies.

The rule expands the Public Law 114-113 fee of $4,000 to both H-1B and L-1 new employment as well as extensions of stay for employers that meet the 50 employees, 50% dependability test. The Public Law fee will apply regardless of whether the fraud fee applies. Extension requests for H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B visas filed by the same petitioner for the same employee or H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B amended petitions were previously exempt from the additional fee.

DHS will now separate the I-129 into forms based on case type and eliminate the current supplements to the I-129 form. This also allows DHS to charge separate fees for each form depending on the classification. DHS states that the current base filing fee of $460 doesn’t accurately capture the costs associated with adjudication since the fee is paid regardless of how many nonimmigrant workers will benefit from the petition or application, the type of worker evaluated, whether an employee is identified, or how long it takes to adjudicate the different nonimmigrant classifications. 

The rule updates the filing fees as follows:

Case TypeCurrent FeeFinal FeeChangePercent Change
E-1E-2TN$460$695$23551 percent
H-1B$460$555$9521 percent
H-2A
(named beneficiaries) 
$460$850$39085 percent
H-2B
(named beneficiaries)
$460$715$25555 percent
L-1AL-1B$460$805$34575 percent
O-1$460$705$24553 percent
H-2A
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460$415-$45-10 percent
H-2B
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460$385-$75-16 percent

Green Card Fee Changes

Children under the age of 14 filing for a green card with their parents were previously able to pay a reduced fee of $750 instead of the $1,140 (plus $85 biometrics fee) currently charged to older applicants. All applicants will pay $1,130 under the new rule.

DHS also chose to separate the filing fees for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, when either filed concurrently with Form I-485 or after the Form I-485 has been accepted and is still pending. Current regulations allow individuals to pay the I-485 fee, but also file the I-765 and I-131 without additional fees if filed concurrently. 

The rule claims: “Debundling allows individuals to pay for only the services actually requested. Thus, many individuals may not pay the full combined price for Forms I-485, I-131, and I-765.” The newly established fees are as follows:

  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document: $590
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization: $550
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or adjust Status: $1,130

Individuals applying for work and travel documents along with their permanent residence application will now pay a total of $2,270.

Citizenship Fees

DHS will remove the N-400 fee waiver (Form I-942) and the reduced fee option “in order to recover full cost for naturalization services.” The rule also removes the fee waiver for the N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. However, the removal of fee waivers will reduce the cost of Forms N-600 and N-600K because the increased fee would no longer need to cover the cost of the fee-waived form adjudication.

However, the N-400 would not be afforded the same price decrease as the N-600: DHS raised the naturalization fee an astounding 83% from $640 to $1,170 for the paper-based filing. With the removal of the reduced fee option, naturalization may be financially out of reach for many families.

Premium Processing 

Currently, petitioners or applicants can pay $1,440 for certain employment-based petitions to be adjudicated within 15 calendar days. The new rule will change the 15-day calculation from calendar days to business days, while also excluding federal holidays and regional or national office closures due to weather or other causes. 

The rule also states that the 15-day period be paused when USCIS issues a notification of approval, denial, RFE, or NOID. The rule would also clarify that a new 15 business day period will begin upon receipt of an RFE or NOID response. If an investigation is opened for fraud or misrepresentation, USCIS can retain the fee and not reach a conclusion to the request within 15 days. 

The agency claims that the shift to calculating by business days will allow USCIS additional time to complete processing on a premium processing petition and could reduce the need for USCIS to suspend premium processing when request filing volumes are high.

Payment Updates

USCIS will eliminate the $30 returned check fee because the fees associated with collecting the charge were higher than the returned check fees actually collected. However, petitioners and applicants should still ensure that adequate funds are available to avoid processing delays. 

Another shift that has the potential to trip up applicants and petitioners is the planned updates to certain form instructions to only allow certain payment types for certain forms. For example, USCIS may determine that it only wants to accept credit or debit card payments for naturalization. USCIS could also decide that only a check or money order is acceptable payment for a certain form. The rule does not modify the instructions at this time, but states: 

“In this final rule, DHS does not restrict the method of payment for any particular immigration benefit request. This final rule clarifies the authority for DHS to prescribe certain types of payments for specific immigration benefits or methods of submission.” 

Extra precautions must be taken to review form instructions every time a case is filed to avoid a processing delay due to an incorrect payment type. 

Biometrics Fees

The new rule incorporates biometrics fees into the underlying immigration benefit request to “simplify the fee structure, reduce rejections of benefit requests for failure to include a separate biometric services fee, and better reflect how USCIS uses biometric information.” The fee includes FBI name checks, FBI fingerprints, Application Support Center (ASC) contractual support, and biometric service management (including federal employees at ASC locations). The rule outlines that a separate biometric services fee will be retained for Temporary Protected Status in the amount of $30, but requests for other immigration benefits will include the biometric fee. 

Secure Mail Initiative

We have seen many clients suffer when the United States Postal Service (USPS) loses important immigration notifications. The rule announced that USCIS will implement Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery (SCRD) as the sole method of delivery of secure USCIS documents. USPS states that Signature Confirmation requires that the recipient or another responsible person at the residence be present to sign for the item and then the sender will receive the signature and name of the recipient and the date, time, and location of the delivery. The rule outlines states 

“USCIS and applicants can track their document using the USPS website up to when the document is delivered. Recipients will also have the ability to change their delivery location by going to the USPS website and selecting “hold for pickup” to arrange for pickup at a post office at a date and time that suits them.”

Applicants and petitioners should ensure that accurate addresses are submitted prior to the case filing.

Timeline for Rule Implementation

The fee increase is effective Oct. 2, 2020 for any immigration filings postmarked on or after that date. If you are eligible for any of the immigration benefits subject to the fee increase, you should initiate your immigration process as soon as possible to avoid the substantial increase in USCIS filing fees. 


To initiate your case and save money, email info@challalaw.com or call 804-360-8482.