Proposed Immigration Fees Increase Would Raise Barriers to Legal Immigration

UPDATE:  In response to national advocacy efforts, on December 6, 2019, the government extended the deadline for public comment to December 30, 2019, instead of December 16th.

On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed rule raising the filing fees on dozens of applications processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The average proposed fee increase is 21%, but many increases are far higher, such as an 83% fee increase to apply for U.S. citizenship, a 79% fee increase in permanent residency applications for those who need to be able to work and travel while their applications are in process, and a 55% increase in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) renewal fees

The fee increases will make it harder for many people to apply for or keep their legal immigration status.

The proposed rule will raise new barriers, and higher fees, for employers to petition for foreign talent.   Instead of the current $460 fee,  USCIS would charge $860 for an H-2A visa petition for a named agricultural seasonal worker.  To petition for a named H-2B non-agricultural seasonal worker, the fee would increase to $725.  Fees for unnamed workers would decrease slightly from the current fees, but for the first time, USCIS would limit petitions to 25 unnamed  employees.  For example, a farm petitioning for 200 unnamed H-2A workers would have to file eight petitions, at a cost of $3,400 instead of the current $460.

Other employment-based petitions will also see fee increases, and processing changes.   For example, the fees for filing an L-1, O-1, and H-1B  petitions would increase by 77, 55, and 22 percent, respectively.  The rule would also relax the USCIS’s premium processing deadline from 15 calendar days to 15 business days–which the proposed rule acknowledges will cause “lost productivity” for employers.  The fee rule also would require employers with more than 50 or 50% H-1B and L-1 visa employees in the aggregate to pay a $4,000 or $4,500 fee, respectively, for individual employees’ visa extension requests.

Many of Maine’s immigrants are asylum seekers.   The proposed rule would introduce a fee to apply for asylum in the U.S., making the U.S. a global outlier (joined only by Iran, Fiji, and Australia) in requiring those fleeing persecution to pay to seek protection.  Additionally, it would for the first time require that asylum seekers pay for their initial work permits, at a cost of $490, despite the fact that asylum seekers cannot legally work to raise the money to pay the fee.

About two-thirds of Maine’s immigrants gain residency as immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.    For those able to apply for their green cards from inside the U.S. who need to be able to work and travel while their applications are in process, the 79% fee increase, to $2,195, plus the 49% increase in the fee for each child under 17, may delay their ability to regularize their status and to work legally in the State.

The proposed rule would eliminate the ability to request a fee waiver for most applications, including asylum applications and asylum seekers’ initial work permits, even where an individual is experiencing real economic hardship that could be cured, for example, by getting a work permit.

Congress long ago decided that USCIS must fund its operations primarily through filing fees rather than with Congressional appropriations.   However, this proposed rule would divert over $200 million of the fees raised by the increases to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), rather than to processing applications for legal immigration status and benefits.  Moreover, the rule does not propose using the fees to add staff so that USCIS can reduce long application processing times and improve service delivery.

Public comments will be accepted until December 16, 2019.  MeBIC will submit comments opposing the proposed rule.