USCIS Set to Raise Filing Fees Significantly

  • POSTED: September 5, 2023
  • CATEGORY:
  • POSTED BY: LawrenceGruner

USCIS Likely to Increase Visa Fees in Early 2024: What You Need to Know

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently announced plans to increase visa fees in early 2024. This decision has raised questions about the reasons behind the fee hike, the expected impact on applicants, and how USCIS plans to utilize the additional revenue generated from these fee adjustments. In this article, we will delve into the USCIS’s rationale for the fee increase and its implications for immigrants and applicants.

Why the Need for a New Fee Schedule?

One of the primary questions that many have raised is why USCIS is pursuing a new fee schedule. The agency cites a straightforward reason: the current fees are insufficient to cover the operational costs required to timely adjudicate immigration and naturalization benefits. In essence, USCIS argues that it needs higher fees to cover the cost of doing business and to prevent future backlogs from accumulating.

It’s worth noting that USCIS receives the majority of its funding, a staggering 96%, from its customers in the form of filing fees. Unlike other government agencies funded by taxpayers through congressional appropriations, USCIS relies heavily on fees paid by applicants and petitioners.

While Congress did provide a much-needed infusion of $275 million in fiscal year 2022 to address current backlogs and advance USCIS’s humanitarian mission, ongoing congressional support is necessary to eliminate existing backlogs fully. USCIS hopes that the new fee rule will enable them to stay on top of incoming caseloads and avoid future backlogs.

The Accumulation of Backlogs

To understand the urgency of the fee increase, it’s essential to examine how backlogs have accumulated over time. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on USCIS operations, causing a dramatic drop in receipts and a temporary 40% reduction in revenue. Simultaneously, a hiring freeze and workforce attrition diminished USCIS’s capacity to process cases, even as caseloads rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

The hiring freeze was lifted in March 2021, and USCIS has been actively recruiting and training new staff to fill current vacancies. However, to maintain a strong fiscal footing and continue improving their ability to deliver timely decisions, USCIS requires additional resources, which the proposed fee rule aims to provide.

Revenue Projections

Under the current fee schedule, USCIS expects to generate an average of $3.28 billion per year during fiscal years 2022 and 2023. When premium processing fees are factored in, the total fee revenue is projected to be $4.5 billion per year on average.

In contrast, the proposed fee schedule anticipates an average annual revenue of $5.2 billion during fiscal years 2022 and 2023. With the inclusion of premium processing fees, this figure rises to a projected $6.4 billion per year on average. This additional $1.9 billion per year is deemed necessary to align agency capacity with projected workloads and prevent future backlogs from accumulating.

Utilizing Additional Revenue

Many individuals are curious about how USCIS plans to allocate the additional revenue generated from the fee increases. The proposed FY2022/2023 Fee Rule Budget of $5.2 billion is intended to enable USCIS to fully recover the cost of all expenses and meet the projected demand for services. This budget is based on the FY 2016/2017 Fee Rule Budget as a baseline, with various additional costs required for USCIS to operate effectively, including:

  1. Staffing Updates: Increasing personnel by 7,778 to meet service demands.
  2. Annual Federal Employee Pay Raises: Complying with Congress-approved pay raises.
  3. Contract Cost Increases: Covering rising costs and projected demand.
  4. Technology Maintenance and Refresh: Funding upgraded IT resources.
  5. Customer Service/Communications: Meeting the growing cost of call center operations and customer relationship management.
  6. Other Operations: Funding new officer training, FOIA responses, Lockbox activity, contract increases, and Secure Mail enhancements.
  7. Asylum Processing Rule: Covering the cost of asylum officers adjudicating credible fear and reasonable fear claims at the border.
  8. Refugee Processing: Supporting the cost of refugee resettlement.

Visa and Green Card Application Fee Changes
Below you can find the specific fee changes outlined in the proposed (expected) increases. This is not an exhaustive list, but outlines some of the most common visas and applications we deal with at our law office.

Fiance Visa (form I-129F): Increase from $535 to $720 (+35%)
Marriage Green Card with EAO/AP (I-485): Increasing from $1225 to $1540 (+26%)
Marriage Green Card w/Relative Partition, EAO & AP (I-485, I-130(paper), I-765, I-131): From $1760 to $3640 (+105%)
Spousal Visa (CR-1 Visa): From $535 to $820 (+53%)
Employment Authorization (I-765): From $410 to $650 (+59%)
Fee Waivers and Exemptions

USCIS is committed to preserving fee waiver eligibility for individuals with low income and those facing financial hardship. Fee waiver requests will continue to be available for applicants receiving public benefits or with incomes at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Impact on Naturalization Applicants

One of the noteworthy changes is the proposed increase in fees for naturalization applications. USCIS suggests a $35 fee increase, setting the total naturalization fee at $760, compared to the current $725 ($640 application fee plus $85 biometric services fee). This fee adjustment is aimed at simplifying the filing process by combining the application fee with the biometric services fee. While this represents an increase, it remains below the Consumer Price Index calculation, which would have resulted in a $140 fee hike to $865.

Calculation of Fee Increases

USCIS calculates fee increases to ensure that they cover the full operational costs. This involves considering both the unit cost of adjudicating a specific form and an additional fixed percentage to cover non-adjudication overhead expenses. The proposed rule also introduces a new Asylum Program Fee surcharge of $600 for certain employer petitions to partially offset the costs of asylum processing.

However, USCIS emphasizes that Congress has the power to reduce the burden on fee-paying customers by fully funding the agency’s humanitarian mission, as it does for other government agencies.

Conclusion

If you are on the fence about whether or not to file your immigration case you may wish to file it sooner rather than later as the filing fees are likely to go up in the next few months. As indicated above some filing fee increases will be dramatic e.g. double the current fees.

If you have any immigration questions please call or email us (attorneygruner@gmail.com). We would be happy to consult with you. Consultations are free and confidential.

The Law Offices of Lawrence Gruner Inc. handles immigration cases throughout the World. We have over 25 years of immigration experience and we would be happy to work with you. The information above is educational in nature and should not be relied on. Please always speak to an immigration lawyer prior to filing any documents with USCIS.

 

 

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