COVID Pandemic Leads to Increases in USCIS Filing Fees
Among its other devastating consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in the filing of fee-generating petitions and applications for immigrant benefits. And, since USCIS gets nearly all (97%) of its operating revenue from immigration case filings, the drop-off in revenue has led to severe budgetary problems for the agency.
Based on the steep decrease in filings attributable to stay-at-home orders and unemployed workers in the first months of the pandemic, USCIS projected that it was going to run out of money before the end of the fiscal year. On the basis of this projection, USCIS announced its intention to furlough 13,000 employees – roughly 70% of its workforce. This announcement resulted in panic among USCIS workers who feared for the loss of their jobs and livelihood. To meet the shortfall, USCIS asked Congress for a $1.2 billion dollar bailout so that it could stave off job losses and maintain operations. On August 25, 2020, USCIS announced that the cancellation of its furlough plan. The cancellation of the furlough is tied, at least in part, to plans to increase revenue by raising filing fees across a wide range of applications and petitions.
Large filing fee increases are coming. Some of the increases are negligible; others are so substantial that it will effect the ability of individuals and families to pursue immigration benefits. Unless stopped by the Courts, the filing fee increases will take effect on October 2, 2020. The rate of increase varies, from a tripling of fees for certain waivers, to 50% increases for Applications for Adjustment of Status for minors, to a +80% increase for Applications for Naturalization (citizenship). Some filing fees for some applications will decrease slightly. On average, across all application types, filing fees will increase about 20%.
Some of the immigration filing fee increases which will have the greatest impact on applicants include these:
• Applications for Naturalization (Form N-400) – the current filing fee is $725; after October 2, the filing fee for the N-400 will be $1,200. This represents an increase of 83%.
• Applications for Family-based Permanent Residence (Form I-130/I-485) – the current combined filing fee for a marriage-based or family-based application for permanent residence, including biometrics and interim benefits i.e. employment authorization and advance parole (permission to travel) is $1,760; after October 2, the combined filing fee will be $2,860. This represents an increase of 64%.
• Applications for Political Asylum (I-589) – previously, by longstanding tradition and a recognition of the precarious condition of most asylum applicants, the I-589 required no filing fee. As of October 2, the filing fee will be set at $50 plus, if eligible, an additional $490 for employment authorization – or over $500 per applicant.
• Petitions for Non-immigrant Workers (I-129) – at present, the base for an I-129, used for H-1B, H-2B, TN, L non-immigrants and others, is $460 (not including ACWIA and Fraud Fees normally set at $2,000). As of October 2, the filing fees for the I-129 will rise by different amounts, to $555 (21%) for an H-1B worker, to $805 (75%) for an L-1 worker, to $705 (53%) for an O-1 alien of extraordinary ability.
• Other notable fee adjustments to be implemented on October 2 include
– I-131, Application for Travel Documents, from $575 to $590, an increase of 3%
– I-601A, Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver, from $630 to $960, an increase of 52%
– I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, from $595 to $760, an increase of 28%
– I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, from $410 to $550, an increase of 34%
While most USCIS filing fees have increased, some have decreased. Most notably, effective October 2, the filing fee for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, will decrease from $700 to $555.
The increases in filing fees are not without controversy. Some view the increases as part of an a concerted effort to discourage family-based immigration or make citizenship less attainable for eligible applicants. Additionally, there are legal questions as to the procedures used to implement the increases and the factual questions as to the assumptions underlying the increases.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has been joined by other national organizations suing to preempt the implementation of the increases. Among its other allegations, the lawsuits state that the filing fee increase and filing fee requirement for asylees will harm the most vulnerable in our society and create an unnecessary wealth test for U.S. citizenship.