Get ready for a new round of fee increases for the vast majority of immigration benefits available from the financially strapped U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) – but those applying for naturalization will be spared any hikes.
USCIS announced last week that it is proposing to implement a fee rise that will average 10%, due to a shortfall of roughly $200 million between revenue and expenses. For the past two fiscal years revenue from application fees did not meet projections, and for the current fiscal year 2010 a shortfall also looms. Though USCIS does receive appropriations from the federal government, the vast majority of its revenue – 90% -- is generated through the fees that its customers pay for benefits such as employment authorization, adjustment of status and naturalization.
USCIS is proposing to slightly decrease fees in five different categories, including the petition for an alien fiancé (Form I-129F, from $455 to $340), and the application to extend or change non-immigrant status (Form I-539, from $300 to $290).
The agency also seeks to implement three new types of fees related to the immigrant investor pilot program green cards, those seeking civil surgeon designation, and for immigrant visa fees that are processed by the State Department.
Naturalization fees will remain steady at $595. “Our agency has determined that the act of requesting and obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves special consideration given the unique nature of this benefit to the individual applicant, the significant public benefit to the nation and the nation’s proud tradition of welcoming new citizens,” USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas said at a press conference last week.
“We believe this action to retain the naturalization fee at the current level will reinforce these principles and is consistent with our other efforts to promote citizenship and immigrant integration.”
To learn more about the increases, visit www.uscis.gov where the news is featured on the home page. The public will have a 45-day period to comment on the proposals once they are formally published in the Federal Register, and afterwards USCIS will publish a final rule. This is expected to happen before the end of the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30.
Mayorkas did deliver some promising news during his press conference last week. The average nationwide processing time for naturalization cases is only four months – undoubtedly many citizens will remember waiting more than a year for the benefit – and the time for renewal/replacement of a green card stands at 2.5 months, beating the agency’s goal of 3.5 months.
In response to a question, Mayorkas did acknowledge that the number of applications the USCIS fields per year has been on the decline, with economic reasons associated with filing fees a factor in non-citizens applying for benefits.
The biggest fee generator for USCIS doesn’t come from naturalization applications, but rather those seeking employment authorization. Given the state of the economy, there’s no doubt that the number of requests for authorization has lessened during the past couple of years.