In August 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed increases in many of the fees charged by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as well as new fees for those filing for political asylum and an end to any waivers for immigration fees. The final rule issued by DHS also called for an increase in the cost of naturalization services. The changes, slated to take effect on October 2, 2020, were instantly met with criticism from immigration experts. They deemed the fee hike an effort to prevent poorer immigrants, who are often people of color, from obtaining legal status and citizenship in the United States. Critics also predicted negative impacts for the businesses that need to employ potential immigrants and the overall economy.
Two lawsuits challenging the USCIS final rule were filed in California, and a federal judge stopped the changes from taking effect just before the date they were to be implemented. A nationwide preliminary injunction and stay on implementation of the fee rule was issued. The government tried to appeal the decision, but on December 28, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) voluntarily moved to dismiss the appeal, and for now the USCIS fee final ruling remains stopped in its entirety.
How Expensive is It to File for Citizenship?
Fees for applying for U.S. citizenship can vary widely, depending on immigration status and age; however, the basic fee to process the Application for Naturalization N-400 form is $640 plus a fee of $85 for biometrics. Applicants aged 75 or older are exempt from the biometrics fee. Those applying through their military service are exempt from both the application and biometrics fee.
Fee waivers (Form I-912) are available if at least one of the following criteria of eligibility are met:
- The applicant, applicant’s spouse, or head of the household living with the applicant is receiving a means-tested benefit.
- The applicant’s household income is less than or equal to 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
- The applicant has some type of financial hardship such as medical expenses of a family member, homelessness, eviction, unemployment, or similar.
Some applicants may be eligible for a fee reduction (Form I-942) if their annual household income is more than 150 percent but less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines when the application is filed.
Fee waivers and reductions must be applied for along with the application for citizenship. After filing the form N-400, it is too late to apply.
The USCIS final ruling would have raised the application fee by 81 percent to $1,160 and eliminated the biometrics fee. Asylum applications would have required a fee for the first time ever of $50. The final ruling would have also eliminated the possibility of applying for a fee waiver.
Additional expenses may come from hiring a lawyer to help with the citizenship application process, which is complex and time-consuming. Every application requires extensive documentation to support the applicant’s case for citizenship. An immigration lawyer’s fees are based on their reputation and experience, the time spent on the application, the normal comparable fee for the city or region where the application is being filed, and any time constraints involved in the case. Every case is unique, and a complex case will require more time and therefore be more costly than a simple one with no complicating issues. If an application is denied and an appeal must be made to the Board of Immigration Appeals, those costs are additional.
Depending on the contract, an immigration lawyer may also ask the client to cover the costs of copying documents, translating documents, mailing documents, and phone calls made on behalf of the applicant. If expert witnesses are needed or any medical or psychological examinations are required, they may also cost extra. Sometimes court fees are required, and the lawyer may pass on those costs as well.
What Were the Proposed Fee Changes in the USCIS Final Rule?
Some of the fee changes in the USCIS final rule are outlined above; however, there were many proposed changes to the current fee structure that USCIS said was needed because of a lack of resources. DHS has a projected $ 1 billion deficit and is trying hard to raise revenue. Although the court has stopped the changes from taking place, if implemented these are just some of the differences future applicants will see:
- Limits on certain forms for the number of beneficiaries. This means that family members will have to fill out their own forms and pay fees separately.
- Higher fees for work permit applications, Form I-765, from the current fee of $410 to $550. The biometrics fee will be dropped.
- The fee for adjustment of status applicants will drop from $1,140 to $1,130, and the $85 fee for biometrics will no longer be required. However, many of the forms currently included in the main fee will have separate fees, such as $550 for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization; and $590 for Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Children’s applications will no longer be eligible for a reduced fee.
- Higher fees for waiver of inadmissibility applicants, Form I-601, from the current fee of $930 to $1,010.
- Higher fees for the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver from $630 to $960. The $85 biometrics fee will be dropped.
- Longer waits for premium processing: 15 business days instead of 15 calendar days or three weeks up from the current two weeks.
- Higher fees for TN visa, non-immigrant business visa for Canadian and Mexican citizens; and E visa, for treaty traders and investors, petitions up 51 percent to $695.
- Higher fees for L petitions used to bring foreign workers to a corporation’s U.S. offices, up 75 percent to $805.
- Higher fees for an O visa, non-immigrant visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in science, arts, education, business, or athletics, petitions up 53 percent to $705.
- Higher fees for I-765 Employment Authorization Documents up 34 percent to $550, excluding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
- Fees for H-2A and H-2B visa, non-immigrant visas for temporary, seasonal agricultural, and non-agricultural workers, petitions increase by 85 percent and 55 percent, respectively, to $850 and $715.
Immigration law is a complex and quickly changing field. Although the USCIS Final Rule has been enjoined by the court, for the time being, there is no way to tell how long the stay of implementation will last. The visa and passport application process can be expensive and is projected to become more costly in some way, given the budget shortfalls facing DHS. Those with immigration issues should consider dealing with them immediately rather than holding off and waiting. Working with a lawyer may seem unnecessary, but it can save significant time and money in the long run by avoiding mistakes. Fees for filing application forms can add up, and it is important to get it right the first time. Some mistakes could put a person’s immigration status in jeopardy. A knowledgeable and experienced immigration lawyer will keep abreast of the changes in immigration law and file the correct papers according to the required deadlines, thereby eliminating stress from the mind of the client. Consulting with a lawyer may also reveal immigration strategies that were not readily apparent to the average person.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Provide Experienced Counsel for the Citizenship Process
If you need assistance applying for a visa, residency, naturalization, or citizenship, the skilled Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC can help. Our extensive experience with the complex U.S. immigration system means we can serve every need whether for families, businesses, students, or visitors. One of our compassionate multilingual lawyers is ready to serve you. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.