WASHINGTON — On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced fee changes for visa and citizenship applications intended to generate more revenues for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The agency previously announced that revenues were expected to be 60 percent lower in the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30 than in the previous year. USCIS is funded through the fees paid by those seeking to emigrate to the U.S. or to become citizens once here.
The agency also previously announced layoffs for more than 13,000 of its approximately 19,000 staff which would have begun this week, but were deferred for a month after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others noticed USCIS had unused carryover funds from previous years sufficient to maintain operations through the end of the fiscal year.
In a statement announcing the increase, USCIS said: “As required by federal law, USCIS conducted a comprehensive biennial fee review and determined that current fees do not recover the cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services. DHS is adjusting USCIS fees by a weighted average increase of 20% to help recover its operational costs. Current fees would leave the agency underfunded by about $1 billion per year.”
“USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures and make adjustments based on that analysis,” said Joseph Edlow, USCIS deputy director for policy. “These overdue adjustments in fees are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland and protect Americans.”
USCIS said the fee raises account for “increased costs to adjudicate immigration benefit requests, detect and deter immigration fraud, and thoroughly vet applicants, petitioners and beneficiaries.”
Danielle Spooner, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) CIS Council 119, previously told the Messenger that USCIS has caused delays in the processing of applications by constantly changing the standards used to evaluate those applications. “Every day there’s changes in policies,” she said. “Sometimes you have to hold files for months.”
Some of the fee changes go up and others down. The proposed fee schedule removes a proposed $275 for renewal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, for example.
While most changes are fairly minor, some fees increase drastically. The proposed rule change would increase the fee to file for a suspension of deportation proceedings from $285 to $1,810. An immigrant who wants to qualify a family member for immigration would have to pay $1,485 instead of the current fee of $285. A request for a hearing in a naturalization decision would also increase by more than $1,000 from $700 to $1,7,35.
The rule does propose allowing a savings on all applications filed online.
USCIS last updated its fee structure in December 2016 by a weighted average increase of 21%.
The fee changes take effect on Oct. 2.