U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) says it’s out of money and they want immigrants to pay for it even though the agency’s misplaced priorities and expenditures are to blame.   Within the last several years, the Trump administration has inappropriately changed the mission of the agency.  In 2019 , the controversially Trump appointed Acting  USCIS Chief , Kenneth T. (Ken) Cuccinelli, , declared USCIS as “a vetting agency, not a benefits agency.”  Consequently, the agency has invested a majority of its resources into what they’ve mislabeled as “vetting” and “fraud detection.”  Implementing these misguided policies is what has slowed USCIS’ productivity and emptied its coffers.  This does not align with the real mission of USCIS which is self-described as “ to administer the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”

This excessive focus on vetting has also led to extreme and costly backlogs in immigration processing.  It includes requiring duplicative in-person interviews for some applicants, repeatedly rejecting forms for minor errors or omissions,  issuing far more repetitive and unnecessary  “requests for evidence,” and implementing new policies which have lead to rejections for more H-1B applications.  All of these are unnecessary costs which USCIS could be saving.   It’s these priorities, not immigrants, which can be blamed for USCIS’ lack of funds.

USCIS wrote a recent letter to Congress declaring that the Coronavirus pandemic had caused inescapable budget deficits.  Its implored Congress for an emergency bailout of $1.2 billion.  The decline in applications cannot be blamed for the lack of funds because USCIS announced its need for a bailout only 2 months after applications declined due to COVID. 

USCIS says it wants to impose a  10% surcharge on all immigration benefits and visa petitions to pay back any bailout .  But this increase is on top of last November’s proposed fee increases.   For the first time, many asylum applicants would no longer be exempt from paying filing fees. There would be a $50 fee imposed on persons applying for asylum or withholding of removal.  In addition, they would, for the first time, have to pay a fee of $490 in order to apply for an EAD work permit. Only 3 other countries in the world charge filing fees for first-time asylum applicants: Iran, Fiji and Australia.

USCIS wants to also eliminate most fee waivers except for those actually cited in the law (VAWA self-petitioners, battered spouses of certain nonimmigrants, U visas, T visas and TPS). The fee waivers which would be eliminated are those for naturalization, adjustment of status, green card replacement and renewals and employment authorization.  Presently, it is reported that  almost 40% of naturalization applicants requested a fee waiver.   If DACA is still in existence when the fee increases take effect, the DACA renewal fee will rise to $765, a 55% increase.

 Such fee increases appear not to be a budget fix but rather an attempt to impede immigration by placing  it out of reach for most low-income immigrants. Even though these fees were proposed six months ago, USCIS has not finalized them.

The date on which the USCIS fee increase would be effective is not yet finalized but it is expected to be implemented very soon.  If you are interested in applying for benefits now, before the costs are prohibitive, Wilson Law Group can assist you.